13-year-old phenom Alysa Liu is second after landing historic triple axel.
The battle for the ladies’ U.S. title didn’t disappoint in Detroit.
13-year-old Alysa Liu started the night off with a bigger than life performance at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but it was defending champion and 2018 Olympic team bronze medallist Bradie Tennell who leads the standings.
Liu is second, while Mariah Bell sits third.
Tennell was rock solid in her technical elements – as she always is – her confidence shining through her performance.
"I was super confident going into tonight," said Tennell in the post-meet press conference. "I practiced really hard for this. I love these programs that I have so I’m excited to perform them and share them with everybody."
The 2018 U.S. champ delivered a triple Lutz, triple toe opener before executing a double axel and triple flip. Her 76.60 total leads the field.
Tennell broke out last season at Skate America, taking the bronze medal. She went on to win the U.S. championships in January and qualified to the Olympic Games.
But the 20-year-old said the Olympic season added more pressure than the defence of her title.
“I think last year felt like a little more pressure than this year because there was so much at stake,” she said.
“But any time I’m here I love it and I’m just excited to be out there,” Tennell added. “I just go out there and focus on myself and what I need to do.”
The first major title contender to skate was Alysa Liu, the 13-year-old with a technical arsenal to rival any in the field.
Coming into competition, the figure skating world was buzzing about the potential to see Liu land three triple axels in competition.
She’s on her way, delivering her planned attempt cleanly in the short program after just 25 seconds on the ice.
“I was really happy because I did everything I wanted to do,” Liu said afterward, tears of joy and relief streaming down her face. “I wasn’t really nervous. I was just really excited to compete here.”
She earned a 73.89 total score. In addition to the axel, Liu performed a triple flip and a triple Lutz, triple toe combination. The latter was called for an underrotation.
“I just told her to do what she does on a daily basis when she’s training and just to remember her training,” Liu’s coach, Laura Lipetsky, said. “She’s excited to be here for her first senior nationals.”
With one historic feat already in the books this week in Detroit, the California-native has one more in mind:
“She definitely wants to be the youngest champion of the U.S. nationals – that’s in the back of her head. She really, really wants it,” Lipetsky said.
1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski currently holds that honor – she was 14 when she grabbed the title at the 1997 U.S. championships in Nashville.
Mariah Bell came into the competition as one of the favourites, having earned the highest score of an U.S. woman during the Grand Prix season.
Her goal was simple: skate like she does in training. She came close but her short program had one hiccup: an underrotation call on her triple Lutz, triple toe combination.
“I want to skate like I’m skating at practice but it feels nothing like practice when you go out there in front of all the judges,” Bell told reporters afterward. “Just harnessing that feeling of staying really calm and staying in the moment, that’s what I want to have because that’s what I have when I’m practicing.”
Her short program, set to music by Celine Dion with choreography from Olympic team bronze medalist Adam Rippon, earned 70.30 to finish third.
“The performance felt really great. I’m pretty disappointed in myself on the combo because I’m capable of performing a perfect triple Lutz, triple toe. It hasn’t quite come together in competition yet for me this season,” said Bell. “I’ve got to be able to put it out on competition.”
She’ll have a chance to put it out there on Friday when the women’s overall title is decided in Detroit.