Alysa Liu made history in January when she landed three triple axels and became the youngest ever winner of the Geico US Figure Skating Championships.
The 13-year-old stands at just 146cm, but the pint-sized powerhouse has set and broken numerous records. At the age of 10, Alysa became the youngest ever winner of the intermediate-level skating nationals. Last year, at the 2018 CS Asian Figure Skating Trophy in Bangkok in Thailand, she also became the youngest female in history to land a clean triple axel in an international competition.
In her first and only interview with Hong Kong media, Alysa chats with us over Skype from her home in California in the US, about her training, how she lands the notoriously difficult triple axel, and her hopes for the future.
Two years ago, Alysa competed in the 852 at the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy, scooping up a silver medal. “It was my first time competing at an international competition,” she tells us. “I’m a city girl so I loved [Hong Kong].” Her Chinese surname, Liu, comes from her dad, Arthur Liu, a lawyer who immigrated to the US from the Sichuan province. Liu, who is a fan of two-time Olympic medallist and former American figure skater Michelle Kwan, introduced Alysa to the sport and helped to develop her talent from an early age.
“I started skating when I was five – and my dad noticed that I was better than the others in our lesson,” she says. “My coach [Laura Lipetsky] recommended that I switch to private lessons.”
Alysa took to the training like a duck to water, mastering one jump after another.
“I started off with the basic half jumps, waltz jump, single sal, toe, loop, flip, half lutz, single flip, and axel,” she says. “I then learned all the doubles and triples – with the hardest being the triple axel.”
Although Alysa can perform the move with deceptive ease, the triple axel is known to be one of the trickiest jumps to land.
Alysa is only the third American woman to land a triple axel cleanly at a US nationals after Tonya Harding in 1991, and Kimmie Meissner in 2005. The move requires skaters to take off from a forward position, and to do three and a half rotations in less than a second – the equivalent of 300 rotations per minute.
“I first do a crossover and get some speed into it,” Alysa explains. “I’m [right-footed], so I start with my left foot in front and I do a slight curve, and take off from my toe and go into the air position. Then, I do three and a half rotations in air,
and land on the outside edge of my right foot. It requires very precise technique. I can’t do it if my arms are, for example, even two inches [5cm] too high, and it’s really hard to take off from a forward edge.”
Alysa beams with excitement as she recalls landing the complicated move for the first time last February during a practice. “I was so happy that I screamed. My coach filmed the whole thing.” The skating phenom was able to repeat her success earlier this year at the US championships where she became the youngest ever winner of the individual title after she delivered a stunning skate set to Witches of Eastwick by John Williams.
Her success at the event in Detroit, in the US state of Michigan, catapulted her into the media spotlight, but Alysa hasn’t allowed the fame to get to her head. She says she rarely has any idea of what’s being said about her online.
“When I’m focused on a big competition, I don’t pay attention to anything anyone has to say about me,” she says. “I distance myself from that, even if it’s positive. I don’t want to get myself too hyped up or become upset after reading a hateful comment.
“When I’m spinning in the air, I only think about my technique, and after one element I just think about the next.”
Even though Alysa is too young to compete at junior internationals, the skating prodigy says she already has her eyes set on the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing. “I’m hoping to improve my skating skills and my jumps, and make my spins more intricate and faster,” she says. “And I would love to [be able to] do a quad lutz soon.”