Former Team USA pairs skater Audrey Lu embraces collegiate skating

By Maura Sullivan Hill, Team FSO contributing writer
Photos by Audrey Lu and Robin Ritoss

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on skaters who are competing with their colleges or universities in U.S. Figure Skating’s Collegiate/Intercollegiate Skating. 

In 2022, Audrey Lu and her pairs partner Misha Mitrofanov won the Four Continents Championships and were alternates for the Olympic team. To some, they looked poised to become the top pairs team in the U.S. heading into the next Olympic cycle.

But then, that spring, Lu announced that she would be heading to college at UCLA in the fall.

“It was definitely hard, especially coming from such a high of winning Four Continents right before [retiring],” Lu shared in a Zoom interview. “But I got my acceptance in 2020 and applied for gap years for two years, so I knew this was coming. I was upset, but I knew in my heart that I really wanted to go to school and pursue my academics, too.”

Because during those years she was excelling on the ice, Lu was also a standout in the classroom. She was the salutatorian of her high school and was one of just 125 students to earn the Freshman Alumni Scholarship, of more than 6,000 UCLA freshmen. The merit-based scholarship includes membership in the Alumni Scholars Club, a group that offers mentoring, leadership development, and social networking opportunities.

It was an unusual choice in the skating world, but one that Lu is happy with.

She will start her junior year at UCLA in the fall, studying psychobiology, a major in the psychology department that combines both psychology and biology courses. And she’s stayed on the ice alongside her studies, returning to singles skating at intercollegiate competitions. In 2024, she earned the silver medal in senior women at the 2024 National Intercollegiate Final.

“It was hard, coming here, but still having a skating community and still being really involved in skating, I feel like it wasn’t such a hard transition,” Lu said.

UCLA has more than 30,000 undergraduates, and Lu said, “[It] is definitely a big school, but having my skating community, somewhere where I already knew that I would have a group of friends, is really nice.”

Though when she first arrived on campus, some of the skaters were intimidated by Lu’s impressive skating resume. “Some of my friends now jokingly say they were scared; they didn’t know how [I] would be or how [I] would react to being on an intercollegiate team.”

But after two years skating with the team, Lu says her teammates are like “a close family,” and she loves competing at intercollegiate competitions. She skates in the senior women’s singles event, and also competes in High Team Maneuvers, an event where one skater from each school performs required elements like jumps, spins, and footwork. Lu competes the flying spin for the Bruins.

“Collegiate is different in a way, because everyone is cheering for all the different schools, no matter what school you compete for. We’re all here because we want to do it. Taking time out of your studies to travel to these competitions and skate, people know that you’re here because you love to do it,” she said. “Just hearing the cheering and the support from all the different schools, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Lu also pointed out that it is easier to connect with her competitors these days, since there isn’t a language barrier like at international competitions. “Here, everyone is [asking], ‘What are you studying?’ or ‘What are your future goals?’ or ‘What are you involved in?’ or saying, ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next competition.’ It’s just amazing getting to know everybody, and just being on the ice.”

Being on the ice at these intercollegiate competitions comes with less pressure than during her international career. When she skated pairs, Lu competed under the International Judging System (IJS), but intercollegiate competitions are currently judged under the 6.0 system (though they have also been judged using IJS in the past). Competing under 6.0 means there are no levels or grades of execution for her elements, so Lu felt like it was an easier transition back to singles skating, which she competed in earlier in her skating career.

Now that she’s skating on her own again, Lu is enjoying some freedom to explore different music styles. Her short program is set to “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” while her free skate is to Billie Eilish’s version of “No Time to Die,” from the James Bond movie.

Traveling to competitions with her 20 teammates is also a highlight, she said. “You’re all in the same boat, studying at the competition whenever you can, in the locker rooms and the bleachers or the hotel room.”

The UCLA team is entirely student-run, and they don’t have a coach that works with them. The skaters all support each other at practice and competitions, and on competition day, they put each other on the ice as a coach would.

Lu’s first intercollegiate competition was the summer before she started at UCLA, at the 2022 U.S. Collegiate Championships and Invitational. That’s where she met her teammate Goku Endo, a senior men’s competitor who finished 10th at the 2024 U.S. Championships and also skates for UCLA. Endo coached Lu at that competition, where she finished second.

UCLA doesn’t have a rink on campus, so the skaters coordinate carpools to a rink about 20 minutes away for practice time. Lu usually skates in the morning three days a week, and schedules her classes in the afternoons.

She also serves as the competition chair for the skating team, which hosted a two-day competition in February 2024 at Lakewood ICE in Lakewood, CA. Lu coordinated the entire competition, from scheduling events to finding judges and coordinating their travel and hotel stays.

“I remember the day I competed, we were there at 5:30 am setting up, and then I competed at 8:30 pm,” Lu said. “I was like, competing is the easy part today!”

UCLA’s skating team was part of the reason she was interested in the school.

“It’s really nice, because we’re all there for each other. And you’re a student before an athlete, so going to the rink is skating to have fun, and I’ve really enjoyed it,” Lu said. “It’s really nice that I get to do both, skate and study, for my career goals.”

Lu initially applied to UCLA and other California schools because her longtime coaches, Aleksey Letov and Olga Ganicheva, were considering a relocation from Texas, where she grew up, to California. They ended up relocating to Boston, where Lu and Mitrofanov trained for two years prior to the 2022 Olympics. Lu graduated from high school in 2020 and had focused solely on her training in the lead up to the Olympics. When it came time to choose a school, UCLA won out because of its beautiful campus, school spirit, and academics, she said. Plus, the skating team.

Lu said it is a passion for the sport that keeps her on the ice these days. “Skating and having that outlet is something that just fulfills me,” she said. And she also has stayed involved with U.S. Figure Skating, as a member of the Athlete Advisory Council and vice chair for pairs skating.

She loves hearing stories of how her teammates and competitors alike found their way into skating, and appreciates the diversity of experiences in intercollegiate skating.

“There’s people on our team who haven’t skated in 10 years, that came back [to the ice] and now they love it. Or people who have skated but never competed and they compete for the first time. Or we have people who have skated throughout their life,” she said.

And to any fellow skaters who don’t want to give up the ice but also have academic goals, Lu has these words of advice:

“If you’re thinking about skating in college or if you don’t know if you want to go to college, don’t be afraid to do what you want to do. If you want to go to college and pursue your academic goals, go and do it. But you can also keep skating at the same time. You don’t have to put that side of your life on hold to go to school. You can do both.”

Stay tuned to our next feature in our U.S. Figure Skating’s Collegiate/Intercollegiate Skating series. Read our first feature story in the series here.