Theare underway in Beijing and some of the most anticipated events, including women’s figure skating, start this weekend.
Team USA has high hopes for a 16-year-old phenom named Alysa Liu. The Californian brings a fearless attitude to the ice, which she hopes will propel her to a gold medal. Liu told CBS News’ Jamie Yuccas that she’s looking forward to the Olympic experience even more than a medal ceremony.
Liu was in third place after her short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships less than a month ago. But the two-time national gold medalist wasn’t out of the running until she tested positive for COVID, forcing her to withdraw and jeopardizing her chance to make the 2022 Olympic team. The thought of not being able to compete sent her on an emotional rollercoaster.
“I was really nervous, and then I got the news that I made the team and I started crying with joy,” she said. “I was like, ‘I thought it was over.'”
For Liu, it’s really just the beginning of an already dominant career on the ice. She laced up for the first time as a 5-year-old, and by 13 she’d won her first of two U.S. national championships.
She’s the oldest of five siblings and is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant who came to the U.S. as a 25-year-old. Liu credits an ice skating trip with her father as the moment she decided she wanted to become a skater.
“One day my dad took me and my sister to skate, and I really liked falling and sliding on the ice,” she recalled. “Which – I’m not supposed to fall right now, but that’s what got me into skating.”
By 12, Liu was the youngest skater in history to land a triple axel in an international competition. A year later, she surpassed Tara Lipinsky to become the youngest U.S. national figure skating champion since 1997. She won again in 2020.
Liu has been rewarded for her bold approach. She’s the first woman ever to complete the elusive triple axel and a quadruple jump in the same program, and the first American woman to land a quad in competition.
“It’s really easy to get injured on those jumps, especially if your mind isn’t in the right place. ‘Cause if you hesitate, you know it won’t go well,” she said. “So learning those jumps was a struggle, but you know, when I actually finally learned them, landing them is very satisfying now.”
Liu feels confident that her mind is in the right place heading into these games. And in a sport where the pressure is high, she’s learned to tune out the noise and negativity that filters through her social media accounts.
“It’s so weird to have so many people watching me. And a lot of times they say a lot of things that they wouldn’t say to you in person. And I feel like social media either helps them say more bold things, which can be good. But also, if they’re negative comments or really weird comments, then it’s a little strange,” she said.
Last summer, gymnastopened up about to focus on her mental health – something Liu says she agrees with and can relate to.
“I really respect her for going out and saying that a lot – all that stuff,” she said. “Because I know a lot of athletes are scared to say stuff, even though it’s not really controversial. It’s more true and it should be said.”
As for how she deals with the pressure to compete at a young age, Liu says she tries not to focus on other people’s opinions. Instead, she remembers that she’s competing for herself – and only herself.
“We’re not just athletes, we’re also people who go through emotions,” she explains. “And sometimes we take things too hard, and also training is really hard, and it’s hard mentally as well. If you talk about it, it can help other athletes who are struggling to know that they’re not alone either.”
And at the end of the day, she isn’t too fixated on the medals. Her main goal this Olympics is to “just have fun,” although she says winning a gold medal would be nice.
“You know, deep down, everybody really wants to win that gold medal,” she said.
To get in the right mindset, Liu drowns herself in her favorite music. Her favorite artist is Doja Cat. She’s hoping to become the first American woman since Sarah Hughes 20 years ago to top the podium in women’s figure skating.