Alysa Liu, no longer doing quads, finds greater meaning in figure skating

Alysa Liu of Team United States skates during the Women Single Skating Short Program. Figure Skating - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 11
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It was three years ago that figure skater Alysa Liu needed a helping lift from her competitors to reach the top step of the podium at the 2019 U.S. Championships, when she became the youngest ever U.S. women’s champion ever at age 13.

Liu followed up by becoming the first U.S. woman to land three triple axels in a single competition, the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump (specifically, a quadruple lutz) in a competition, and the first woman in the world to land a quad and triple axel in the same program at a competition.

Just three years later, 16-year-old Liu is the youngest member of Team USA across any sport at the 2022 Winter Olympics and they lead three Americans into the free skate portion of the competition.

The Richmond, California, native earned a 69.50 in Tuesday’s short program in Beijing, putting Liu in eighth place overall and into the top 15 along with teammates Mariah Bell (11th at 65.38) and two-time Olympian Karen Chen (13th at 64.11).

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Anna Shcherbakova wins figure skating gold as scrutiny crushes Kamila Valiyeva

Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valiyeva, the Russian Olympic Committee athlete who was cleared to skate even though she failed a drug test taken Dec. 25, leads with an 82.16 despite stumbling on her triple axel.

While an Olympic medal is obviously on Liu’s wish list, just being at the Games and skating their best is the satisfaction they are looking for after a whirlwind 36 months that included a second U.S. title, a three-inch growth spurt, nagging injury, two coaching changes – including one just two months prior to Beijing – and a crushing withdrawal from U.S. Championships in January after testing positive for COVID-19.

“I’m just really glad that all my training paid off because I’m here competing,” Liu said after Tuesday’s short program. “And the goal of my whole life and my skating career was to compete at the Olympics. So now I can officially say I’m an Olympian.”

Liu on Tuesday did not attempt the notoriously difficult triple axel, the three-and-a half revolution jump she used to win her two U.S. titles. Six skaters did, however, but only Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi (fifth at 73.51) landed it cleanly.

Liu has yet to land a triple axel without deductions this season, but was seen performing it during an Olympic training session earlier this month.

“Hopefully, I will do it in the free skate, I’ve been practicing it in the free program,” they said. “It feels pretty good, I’d say. Obviously, it isn’t perfect, but nothing is ever perfect, so I’ll just go with it.”

Triple axels and quadruple jumps are the hallmark of the ROC skaters, including Valiyeva, 17-year-old reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova (second at 80.20) and 17-year-old Alexandra Trusova (fourth at 74.60), who is known as the “Quad Queen.” In September, Trusova landed five clean quads at a Russian national event.

But Liu has generally abandoned the quad jumps and confirmed she doesn’t plan to attempt the four-revolution jump in Beijing.

“It was a lot easier when I was smaller, and a lot shorter,” said Liu, who stands approximately 5 feet, 2 inches. “It’s just been harder. Especially when COVID hit, I couldn’t train it as much. I stopped training it for a period. So, there was a lot of other factors, but definitely puberty (was one factor).”

ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Lake Placid
LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK – U.S. figure skater Alysa Liu, then 14, became the first American woman to land quad jump (a quadruple lutz) in when she competed at the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York on August 31, 2019. (Photos by Patrick Smith – International Skating Union/International Skating Union via Getty Images)

Bell explained the challenges of maturity in more detail, telling Defector: “Before you go through puberty or you grow, [your jumps] come really easy and you learn them fast because you’re tiny and you can fall really hard, and it doesn’t affect you. Then when I grew, my legs got longer, and everything changed.

“You almost have to relearn a lot of what you have because you are working with a completely different car. It’s like you take one car and you can do everything with it, and all of a sudden you have this new car, and you have to learn how to work with it.”

When Liu grew three inches in a year, she told NBC News her reaction was, “What is this?” But under the guidance of her father, Junguo (Arthur) Liu, she moved through two coaching changes. She first parted ways with Laura Lipetsky, with whom she was with since she was five years old, just prior to 2020, and trained through the pandemic with former U.S. skater Jeremy Abbott before teaming with coach Drew Meekins in November.

“Your body is growing so fast and then you need the training to keep up with the growth of your body, that will throw off your jumps,” said Arthur, who raised Alysa and her four siblings as a single father. Born in China, Arthur fled in 1989 after organizing pro-democracy demonstrations. He eventually resettled in Oakland, California, after the U.S. opened its doors to student refugees.

“My skating now, I feel like I have more purpose to it,” Liu told Defector last month in Nashville. “It’s more meaningful to me than when I was 13. When I was 13, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, jump, jump! Woo!’

“But like now there is an actual meaning to skating and now I have a reason to do it. A lot of it is honoring little Alysa’s dream. That I kind of didn’t think about before, and also, so I can get into good universities and colleges,” the 16-year-old said.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto captures Olympic bronze with empowering free skate

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.