US figure skating team set: Liu joins Bell, Chen

China 2022

First place, Mariah Bell celebrates with second place, Karen Chen left, and third place, Isabeau Levito during the medal ceremony for the women’s free skate program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Alysa Liu certainly didn’t look as if she was suffering from COVID-19 on Saturday, when her smiling face was beamed into Bridgestone Arena by Zoom following the announcement of the American team headed for the Beijing Olympics.

The biggest question now: When will her quarantine period end?

Liu joined U.S. champion Mariah Bell and runner-up Karen Chen in making the three-woman squad, even though she was forced to withdraw from nationals following a positive test. Liu wound up watching the free skate with her friends during a Facetime chat from her Nashville hotel room, where she will stay until she can return two negative tests.

Only then can she travel back to her training base in Colorado and begin preparing for next month’s Winter Games.

“I’m actually feeling fine,” said the 16-year-old Liu, a two-time national champion who was in third place after short program. “I mean, it depends how quickly I can test negative. I literally have no idea about anything. I’m guessing I’m just going to stay here until I don’t have COVID anymore, in this hotel room I’ve been staying at.”

What has she been up to during her sudden isolation?

“Well, today I did nothing,” Liu said with a laugh. “I watch like, half of the guys’ event because I forgot they competed today, and I was like, ‘Oh my God! They already started.’ So I watched some of that. I watched some Netflix. That’s it. That’s all I’ve been doing. And I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow or anything. I haven’t had time to talk to my team yet.”

Liu is one of the few American women who can land the high-scoring triple axel; she fell on the 3 1/2-rotation jump in her short program. And she almost certainly will need to hit it cleanly — and everything else, for that matter — to push one of the heavily favored Russian women off the podium in Beijing.

“I can’t predict how we’re going to do,” Liu said. “I hope we all do really well, just how we want. But I have no idea.”

Liu’s selection to the Olympic team became something of a formality when 14-year-old Isabeau Levito, who is too young to skate in Beijing, delivered a dazzling free skate Friday night. Levito joined Bell and Chen on the nationals podium, keeping such rivals as Lindsay Thorngren and Gracie Gold from having a claim to the third spot.

“It kind of gets me excited to hear them talking about the Olympics,” said Levito, whose aim is the 2026 Games in Milan. “I’m excited for them. Talking about the Olympics in general, and they’re so close — it’s a very exciting event.”

One that the 25-year-old Bell will get to experience for the first time.

She finally broke through at nationals in her ninth appearance, winning both the short program and free skate to earn her long-awaited Olympic trip. Bell became the oldest woman in 95 years to win the U.S. title, and now gets to face the Russian teenagers who have been setting the figure skating world on fire.

“I think there’s a lot to say about experience,” said Bell, whose score of 216.25 points at nationals was far behind the world-record 272.71 set by Russia’s Kamila Valieva this season. “You can tap into experience and really use it to your advantage in a lot of situations, and I definitely have that.”

U.S. Figure Skating has a similar situation in selecting the two pairs teams for Beijing, because the favored duo of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew before nationals when he tested positive for COVID-19. Knierim and Frazier likewise petitioned for a spot on the Olympic team and are expected to be chosen.

The pairs and ice dance teams will be selected once they conclude competition Saturday night. The three men headed to Beijing will be announced after their free skate Sunday, though Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou are basically locks after they turned in dazzling short programs earlier Saturday.

“It’s the Olympic year,” Zhou said. “There’s lots of pressure, everybody is nervous, but the energy is amazing.”

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