The U.S. hasn’t seen a women’s singles figure skater reach the Olympic podium since Sasha Cohen at Torino 2006.
Alysa Liu looks to change that.
At 13 years old, Liu became the youngest-ever national champion when she won the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She proved her victory was no fluke at the following year’s nationals, when she topped silver medalist Mariah Bell by more than ten points in the combined total and claimed a second gold. Liu scored a personal best this past September, earning 219.24 points at the CS Lombardia Trophy.
“[During my routine] I don’t think about anything else. I just focus on myself,” Liu said during a 2019 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, before showing off her adorable pre-race routine. “I tell myself, ‘Okay, yay! I did the first jump. Onto the next.”
Liu grew up in California’s Bay Area. She is the oldest of five children, and was raised by a single father, Arthur, who emigrated from China in 1989. Arthur enrolled his daughter in skating lessons at just five years old, matched her with her first full-time coach, Laura Lipetsky, and has helped train the promising athlete. “I have the Coach Arthur rule: Everything five times,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2019. “Like, double Axel, five good double Axels. If you fall, that doesn’t count.”
At the end of 2019, two-time women’s singles Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan penned a piece for TIME 100 featuring Liu. “In a way, I will be living vicariously through her as I watch her life and skating mature,” Kwan wrote. “Alysa really is the future of figure skating.”
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Right now, Liu’s scores are some of the best in the country, but not in the world. In order to earn as many points as her Russian rivals, she’ll have to attempt more triple Axels and quadruple jumps. But after a rocky season last winter, Liu has maintained a conservative move set. She hasn’t attempted a quad since March 2020.
Still, at just 16 years old – adjusting to growth spurts and body changes – Liu has time to boost her program and hone her skills. She’s expected to lead at the 2022 Nationals, and should dazzle audiences during next month’s Winter Games – even if making the podium will prove a very tall task indeed.