By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Alysia Liu joined U.S. champion Mariah Bell and runner-up Karen Chen on the American figure skating team for the Beijing Olympics on Saturday, even though she was forced to withdraw from nationals following a positive COVID-19 test.
The 16-year-old Liu was in third place after her short program when she took a regularly scheduled test and it came back positive. She immediately told U.S. Figure Skating she would petition for a spot on the Olympic team, and the selection committee chose Liu based on her overall body of work.
Liu, a two-time national champion, said she’s “feeling well physically and mentally” and has been vaccinated.
Bell and Chen were introduced to the crowd at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday during a break in the men’s competition, while Liu was shown smiling and waving to fans on a large video screen.
Liu is one of the few American women who can land the high-scoring triple axel; she fell on the jump in her short program. And she almost certainly will need to hit it — and everything else, for that matter — to push one of the heavily favored Russian women off the podium in Beijing.
“I got on the warmup practice ice and (Liu) wasn’t there and it just got the wheels turning,” said Chen, who made her second Olympic team after finishing 11th at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. “It’s very unfortunate that happened, but I’m really thankful I was able to compete and all the other skaters were able to stay safe and compete.”
Liu’s selection to the Olympic team became something of a formality when 14-year-old Isabeau Levito, who is too young to skate in Beijing, delivered a dazzling free skate Friday night. Levito joined Bell and Chen on the nationals podium, keeping such rivals as Lindsay Thorngren and Gracie Gold from having a claim to the third spot.
“It kind of gets me excited to hear them talking about the Olympics,” said Levito, whose aim is the 2026 Games in Milan. “I’m excited for them. Talking about the Olympics in general, and they’re so close — it’s a very exciting event.”
One that the 25-year-old Bell will get to experience for the first time.
She finally broke through at nationals in her ninth appearance, winning both the short program and free skate to earn her long-awaited Olympic trip. Bell became the oldest woman in 95 years to win the U.S. title, and now gets to face the Russian teenagers who have been setting the figure skating world on fire.
“I think there’s a lot to say about experience,” said Bell, whose score of 216.25 points at nationals was far behind the world-record 272.71 set by Russia’s Kamila Valieva this season. “You can tap into experience and really use it to your advantage in a lot of situations, and I definitely have that.”
U.S. Figure Skating has a similar situation in selecting the two pairs teams for Beijing, because the favored duo of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew before nationals when he tested positive for COVID-19. Knierim and Frazier likewise petitioned for a spot on the Olympic team and are expected to be chosen.
The pairs and ice dance teams will be selected once they conclude competition Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena. The three men headed to Beijing will be announced after their free skate Sunday.
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