Alysa Liu, the 14-year-old U.S. senior champion, landed a triple Axel in combination en route to the top short program score in the biggest international event of her young career, the Junior Grand Prix Final, on Thursday.
Liu, who in January became the youngest U.S. champion in history, hit a triple Axel-triple toe loop combo, a double Axel and a triple loop to tally 71.19 points, a personal best. She skated to Barbra Streisand‘s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in Turin, Italy.
Liu leads by 1.04 points over Russian Daria Usacheva going into Friday’s free skate, streaming live on the Junior Grand Prix YouTube channel.
“I don’t really get nervous, and I don’t feel barely any pressure,” Liu said, according to the International Skating Union, adding that she plans two quadruple Lutzes and two triple Axels in the free. “I just tell myself it’s just another competition.”
Russians rank Nos. 2-5 at the six-skater event, looking to make it 10 straight Junior Grand Prix Final women’s titles for the nation. The top five are separated by just 3.12 points, but Liu was the only one with a triple Axel.
She looks likely to become the first U.S. woman to make a Junior Grand Prix Final podium since Hannah Miller in 2012 (silver). Perhaps the first to win since Becky Bereswill in 2008.
Liu has followed last January’s national title in her senior championships debut with an impressive first junior international campaign.
In recent competitions, she became the first U.S. woman to land any quadruple jump (a Lutz) and the first woman from any nation to couple a triple Axel with a quad.
Though Liu won both of her Junior Grand Prix Series starts, she came into the Final ranked third in the world by best total scores among juniors. She bettered Nos. 1 and 2 (Russians Kamila Valieva and Kseniya Sinitsyna) in Thursday’s short, where rules disallow quads unlike the free.
Juniors get set for big occasion The first big name on the ice on Wednesday was US national champion Alysa Liu in Junior Ladies practice.
The 14-year-old has a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination planned for the start of her short program.
And her free skate looks set to open with a bang - a triple Axel-double toe loop combo followed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop and then another quad Lutz!
That said, Liu has some work to do if she is to come out on top with Russians Kamila Valieva, another Tutberidze pupil, and Ksenia Sinitsyna both outscoring her in Junior Grand Prix events this season.
The junior men were on the ice early with Japan double-handed in the form of Shun Sato and Yuma Kagiyama.
Perhaps reflecting the debate among figure skating fans, Sato says he's been inspired by Yuzuru Hanyu with Kagiyama citing Nathan Chen as his role model.