DETROIT — Alysa Liu, the diminutive and delightful 13-year-old figure skating sensation, had just become the youngest U.S. women’s champion in history Friday when she faced perhaps her most daunting task of the evening:
Ascending the nearly two-foot high top step of the medal podium.
At 4-7, she had no chance of getting there on her own, so last year’s national champion and this year’s runner-up, Bradie Tennell, reached out to pull Liu up, with some help from third-place finisher Mariah Bell.
As metaphors go, it was a doozy. It was only a year ago that Tennell, 20, was the surprising new national champion, while Bell, 22, has been an up-and-comer for several years.
Now, stunningly, they have fallen behind someone who is, respectively, seven and nine years younger. How quickly things change in a sport that increasingly values tiny jumping beans over maturity and staying power.
Liu is now the unabashed star of U.S. figure skating. Everyone in the United States is chasing a kid born in 2005, someone too young to go to the world championships for the next three years and too young to go to the junior world championships until next year. However, she will be eligible for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, when she will be 16 — a perfect age in women’s skating.
Performing magically, without a care in the world, Liu landed two triple axels at the beginning of her long program — a first for an American woman — to win the national title, 217.51 points to Tennell’s 213.59. Bell followed with 212.40. Both Tennell and Bell fell once and later lamented performances that were clearly not their best.
Liu was asked what she was thinking the moment after she landed her first triple axel.
“I still have the second one.”
And then when she landed the second one?
“I still have every other jump to do in the program.”
The questions kept coming. Asked what she was thinking about as she sat at the news conference after the event, looking around the room with Tennell sitting to her right and Bell to her left, she said, simply, “Nothing.”
She elaborated as well as any 13-year-old could.
“It still hasn’t sunk in. I still have to think about everything I just did.”
On a remarkable night, she wasn’t alone.
Follow Christine Brennan on Twitter @cbrennansports.