“The Inside Edge” is a column by Faith Bonds about figure skating.
This Saturday, 14-year-old Alysa Liu became the first American woman to land a quadruple jump in international competition, which could be the greatest problem U.S. Figure Skating has faced in years.
Let me explain.
This accomplishment comes during a period of apparent lull for the U.S. Figure Skating Association, which has been searching for a star since the early 2000’s. Liu became an overnight sensation this January after her surprise win at the US National Championships, wherein she landed three triple axels. Her 4-point victory over Olympian Bradie Tennell signaled a change of the guard in American ladies figure skating.
Since that moment, all eyes in the U.S. have been trained on the teenager. Ineligible to compete in any international competitions last season because of her age, the youngest U.S. national champion ever prepared for her tour with Stars on Ice.
Though U.S. Figure Skating and Liu’s parents may disagree, I think the demands and pressures of tour life — surrounded by colleagues in their twenties and early thirties — are too great for a fourteen-year-old girl. This is just a small example of how the federation exploits its skaters in order to ignore underlying systemic issues within its administration.
The fact is that U.S. Figure Skating has no idea how to cultivate stars. Talent comes up through the ranks left and right, but American skaters don’t have the longevity nor consistency to keep up with their Japanese and Russian competitors.
When this federation comes across a talented individual, it pulls out all the stops in order to make that person go viral. Instead, it should focus on the process for creating more talented individuals in order to strengthen its international presence.
U.S. Figure Skating has been desperately looking for a “household name” since the Michelle Kwan/Sasha Cohen era 15 years ago. It’s true that most Americans only pay attention to figure skating during the Olympic season, but the problem is that they have no one to cheer for when they tune in.
NBC’s primetime Olympics viewership went down 25% from 2014 to 2018, and with that trajectory, it doesn’t look like U.S. Figure Skating will get its household name anytime soon.
Twenty-year old Nathan Chen came the closest we’ve seen to an international sensation. From the age of 17, the promising young skater dominated the national scene, and many favored him to take home the gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
When the lights came on and it was time to perform, Chen faltered. He fell on one jump and stepped out of two others in the short program, bumping his overall placement down to sixth.
U.S. Figure Skating continues to grasp at proverbial straws in order to restore its credibility, which is why Alysa Liu’s recent success worries me.
I’m afraid that as she rises through the ranks, the federation will place more pressure upon her 4-foot-7 figure than bearable. She enters her first season of junior-level eligibility as the face of U.S. Figure Skating; If she continues to shatter records, I don’t have confidence that the association can protect her from the ensuing media onslaught.
This is not a slight on Liu’s talent. She put out an amazing program over the weekend at Junior Grand Prix USA, smashing the record score for junior ladies free skating with a 138.80 performance. Her beautiful skating showed promise for her future on the international circuit, giving a glimpse of how she might develop over the next three years heading into the Beijing Olympics.
This flash of potential, though, by no means makes her the holy grail for U.S. Figure Skating.
“The Inside Edge” runs every Wednesday.