Alysa Liu starts her season with new elegance, confidence

October 28, 2021
By Anna Kellar
Photos © Anna Kellar, Joy

Alysa Liu did not have the pre-Olympic season she wanted. Beset by inconsistency, she fell to fourth place at US Nationals, after winning the last two years. However, she is off to a much different start to the 2021-22 season. She convincingly won her first competition, the Cranberry Cup in Norwood, Massachusetts, over strong skaters like Young You and Mariah Bell. More impressive than the results, however, was the gravitas and performance quality she is now bringing to her skating.

Skating fans remember when Michelle Kwan started the 1996 season with her Salome free skate. Somehow over the summer, she went from a kid with lots of raw talent to the kind of skater who could hold an audience's attention with a gesture. While it may sound outrageous to suggest Alysa Liu is a new Michelle Kwan, that story came to mind when watching Alysa's free skate to Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D. The performance had rough edges, certainly, but it was easy to imagine the program propelling her to a medal in Beijing.

After the competition, Alysa talked about her mindset heading into the Olympic season.
"Honestly, last year doesn't feel like real. Whenever someone says 'last year', I'm think: two years ago? At first, I didn't have any training because of COVID, and then there was a rink that opened for, maybe, three skaters and I was one of them. I trained there, but it was limited ice, limited everything. [Last year] I didn't really have my programs until way late - I think I was getting my programs done around this time, and so it's so weird that now I'm running full programs already. So, I'm getting back into it."

Alysa did keep busy when COVID kept her out of the rink. "I did a lot of off-ice - I got my programs done off ice. It was kind of weird to do that, because me and Massimo [Scali] were outside, in Oakland parks, and people were yelling at us in the parks, and one time we got chased back to the rink. This guy started chasing us, and I think he was barefoot, too. He ran at us, and we were: 'Ok, bye!' It was a rough part, but also a little funny."

Alysa had the reporters all laughing with her as she acted out her story. Her infectious enthusiasm in conversation is a remarkably contrast from the poised and serious image she gives on the ice.

Coach and choreographer Massimo Scali was also very positive about the progress Alysa has made during the off season. "We did a very good and hard job on the skating skills, and we are very pleased that they are showing and paying off. We thought it was very important to step on the senior scene looking like a senior lady. We are working towards high level senior lady. We knew it was important to have every detail, the skating skills, the musicality, the movement, the costume, the concept. We really went through every single detail to start the season with the right stuff, and I think we did it this week. We are proud of her, she is working really hard, and for now we just keep perfecting everything and keep working, because she has no limits, really. She can be so much better than this, also."

Massimo also shared that it wasn't easy to find the right music for Alysa's free skate. "We had the concept in mind, the flying feeling, we wanted her to be this red crowned crane. We thought it was a beautiful concept, connecting her with her roots, because it is a bird that is unique, just in Asia. So, the concept was pretty easy. Finding the music was a little harder, because we wanted something light, but strong at the same time, and so we went through a few choices. This Tchaikovsky's concerto was so beautiful and powerful and light and free at the same time. So, we think we picked the right program. Part of the process was also thinking, what is effective, what is recognizable, what is an Olympic program. Both programs are very classical, but so well-known, so strong and powerful. We wanted something that people could connect right away with."

Even after such a successful early season competition, there is still a long list of improvements for Alysa and her team to make. "We need to have a chat with the judges, and have a chat about what they see," said Massimo. "She needs a consistent triple Axel; it is still in progress. We wanted to try it in this competition in the free skate - it was almost there, almost there. But definitely, [we need to] bring the consistency on that, and bring back the quad Lutz, that is in process. And then, speed, still quality of edges, still working on skating skills, movement. We see her at home every day, and there are moments when we say: 'Wow, that's what we want to see." So we're going to work towards that."

Alysa has been dealing with the pressure of being considered as potential contender for Olympic medals since she was barely a teenager. Now that the Olympic season is here, though, she sounded genuinely relaxed.

"I feel less pressure now, I don't know why, but now when I'm on the ice, I'm less nervous. I'm more confident in myself, so I definitely grew mentally," she shared. "I'm looking forward to this season, soon there will be a Champs Camp. I like these camps a lot, it's really fun to skate with all my friends from all around the US. I'm excited for it, and for training."

Alysa's mindset and hard work seem to be paying off, as she went on to win both the Lombardia Trophy and the Nebelhorn Trophy this fall. She will make her Grand Prix Series debut at Skate Canada.

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