By Claire Cloutier, Team FSO contributing writer
Stars on Ice photos by Melanie Heaney
At age 16, Alysa Liu has already accomplished more than most figure skaters ever will. Liu is a two-time U.S. national champion and recently won a bronze medal at the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships. Liu’s career has been notable for its accelerated timeline. She was just 10 years old when she first competed at the Championships in 2016. And, at 13, she became the youngest U.S. women’s senior champion ever. This winter, she was the youngest member of the U.S. Winter Olympic team in Beijing.
Last month, Liu announced her retirement from competitive figure skating. Her decision to step away from the sport at just 16 is consistent with the lightning pace of her skating career.
When Figure Skaters Online spoke with Liu before the Boston stop of Stars on Ice, she expressed no doubt about her decision to retire. On the contrary, the 16-year-old is looking forward to having more time for family and friends, and to pursue other goals in life–including, most immediately, college. For now, she is enjoying tour life and performing for audiences with Stars on Ice.
Liu: It’s been really good. It’s been fun. It’s a little tiring, doing shows almost every day. But I think it’s worth it, being with all my friends, and getting to tour across the U.S.
FSO: And you’ve been doing some fun stuff off the ice, too.
Liu: Yes. We got to go to Disney World, in Florida. That was the craziest experience I’ve ever had. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I’ll remember forever. We all had a lot of fun. Then, yesterday [April 29] we went to Hershey’s Chocolate World [in Pennsylvania], where they have giant chocolates and stuff. We got to see a lot of cool sweets that they had, and I got a milkshake. So that was also fun. But I would say Disney World was probably the most fun. Or just walking around New York City.
FSO: On your Instagram, you’ve shared some pictures from the tour. There was a photo of you in a sleeping berth on the bus. Do you often sleep on the bus, or do you stay in hotels each night?
Liu: We just slept in the tour bus last night, because we came from Hershey, and now we are in Boston. So we had quite a long drive last night after the show. We slept in the tour bus, and we got to our hotel here at 6:00 a.m. And I got some more sleep.
FSO: What are some of the challenges of skating on tour for audiences?
Liu: Shows are tiring, and we have to do them in a row. But it’s not too hard, because we get break days. And shows are really fun for me. I really enjoy doing them, especially because the programs I do in the shows are my favorites.
FSO: Tell us about your show programs.
Liu: So, I do two solo programs, and four group programs with everyone. The group programs are probably my favorite thing to do. I look forward to them every single time. For most of them, we have matching outfits. And we all get to skate together, doing the same choreography. It’s really fun. For my solos, I do a program to “Loco” by Itzy, and then another program by STAYC called “RUN2U.”
FSO: You recently announced your retirement from competing. This took the skating community a little bit by surprise, because you are so young. But it seems like the reaction has been really positive and supportive from most people. How do you feel about it?
Liu: I feel good about it. I know a lot of people were shocked. But I think a lot of people understand where I’m coming from. I still have so much I want to do in life. Like, I still don’t know how to drive yet, so I really want to learn. The past few years, I barely got to see my family and my friends back at home. And I get homesick when I’m training a lot. So I’m going to go and hang out with them more.
FSO: You have four younger siblings, right?
Liu: Yes. One of my sisters is 14. And the triplets are 12.
FSO: How do they feel about your skating? Have they watched your competitions? Do they follow that part of your life?
Liu: They don’t really, actually. [Laughs] I can only ever remember them watching a few local competitions when I was younger. And the Olympics. That’s about it.
FSO: What’s their attitude to your skating?
Liu: They don’t really care about my retirement that much. Some of them are just glad that I’m going to be home, and they can hang out with me more. I’m really close with all of them. We fight sometimes, of course. But I’m really close with them. The triplets are really funny, and I’m never bored when I’m around them. The things they do are very interesting. It’s really fun just hanging out with them.
FSO: You said in your retirement announcement that you were glad you skated. What were some aspects of skating that you enjoyed?
Liu: I met a lot of really cool people because of it. I got a lot of new opportunities. In my eleven years of skating, I got a lot of life lessons and opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t skate. So I’m glad I did.
FSO: You also said recently in an Instagram live stream that you didn’t necessarily want to have a lot to do with skating in the future. What were some aspects of skating that you didn’t like as much?
Liu: Training was really hard mentally. Especially the past few years, because I was by myself much of the time. It was hard, because I didn’t have the support of my friends and family. That’s one thing that I didn’t enjoy. Sometimes, the environment of skating can get a little toxic. Especially with social media and stuff. It is what it is. But, if I can get away from that, it would be good. So that’s also why I made the decision I made.
FSO: In your earlier years training, you really pushed the envelope technically, doing quads and triple Axels. In retrospect, how do you feel about going for that difficult technical content at a younger age?
Liu: It was definitely a lot easier when I was younger. So I didn’t think too much of it. But, as I grew up, it was a lot harder. Especially mentally. So yes, I decided not to push it. I got hurt one time, when I got a hip injury. So I decided to stop doing quads. I stopped for a few reasons. I didn’t want to injure myself beyond repair, you know? I don’t want surgery. Now, my hip is good. So I’m glad I stopped when I did.
FSO: Going forward, I know you’re thinking about college. Are you keeping open the possibility of doing more skating tours in the future?
Liu: Yes, I’m definitely keeping it open. But it’s not certain. My top three colleges would probably be UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Barnard. Yes, those are my top three. I’m applying, but I’m not sure when I’ll be starting.
FSO: Good luck with your college applications!
Liu: Thank you!