Alysa Liu became the youngest person to win an individual title at the US figure skating championships, stealing the show Friday night with two triple axels and taking the title more than six months before her 14th birthday.
Defending champion Bradie Tennell, the leader after Thursday’s short program, fell during her free skate and Liu, skating immediately after, took advantage, breezing through her routine after the two early triple axels, one of which was in combination.
The Bay Area prodigy’s skate earned 143.62 points, enough to overcome Tennell. When her overall score of 217.51 was announced, she put her hands over her face, overcome with emotion.
Tennell finished second (with a total score of 213.59 points) and Mariah Bell matched her career-best finish at a nationals with a bronze (212.40).
On Thursday, Liu had become only the third woman to land a triple axel cleanly at a US nationals after Tonya Harding (1991) and Kimmie Meissner (2005). On Friday, she became the first to land two in a program.
Not bad for a teenager making her senior-level debut.
Earlier, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue took a step toward defending their ice dancing title, finishing atop the standings after the rhythm dance.
Tara Lipinski was the youngest women’s champion at nationals after winning at age 14 in 1997, and Scott Allen also was 14 when he won in 1964. Now a commentator with NBC, Lipinski was there Friday when her record fell.
“Records are made to be broken,” Lipinski said. “It is quite an honor that she is the one to do it. What a phenomenal talent.”
Hubbell and Donohue will compete for their second straight national title in the free dance Saturday. Madison Chock and Evan Bates were second after the rhythm dance, followed by Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.
The ice dancing competition is one of the most anticipated events of the week, in part because the top teams have plenty of ties to Michigan. Hubbell was born in Michigan, and she and Donohue used to train there. Chock and Bates are from Michigan as well.
Those two teams now train in Montreal under the same coaches – with Hawayek and Baker there as well.
“We’re pretty lucky that we get to train with the best in the world,” Donohue said. “We’re pushing each other. … We’ve got such a unique, incredible atmosphere where we all love each other, we all want to beat each other.”
Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who were fourth after the rhythm dance, train in Novi, Michigan.
Hubbell and Donohue received a score of 84.56, ahead of 82.33 for Chock and Bates.
“We are so happy to be back in Detroit,” said Chock, who had ankle surgery in the offseason. “It wasn’t too long ago that we moved from here up to Montreal, and our family and friends are still here.”
Hubbell and Donohue won the US title last year and won silver at the world championships, so it’s no surprise that they’re in contention again. Chock and Bates were US champions in 2015 and finished third in 2018.
Maia and Alex Shibutani, who won bronze at the Olympics last year, are not competing this season.
Image: Alysa Liu greets fans while wearing her gold medal after winning the women’s title on Friday night.