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Alysa Liu, Vincent Zhou to compete for U.S.’ maximum Olympic figure skating spots

U.S. Figure Skating Championships

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 17: Vincent Zhou skates in the Men’s Free Skate during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Orleans Arena on January 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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The number of Olympic singles figure skaters the United States sends to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics rests in the hands of Alysa Liu and Vincent Zhou.

U.S. Figure Skating announced Monday that Liu, a two-time national champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, were chosen to compete at Nebelhorn Trophy in mid-September with the responsibility of confirming that the U.S. will send the maximum three men and three women to Beijing in five months.

The U.S. successfully qualified three men and three women for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics – the only nation to do so – after sending just two men to Sochi in 2014 and two women to Vancouver in 2010.

Olympic figure skating quota spots for 2022 are primarily based on each nation’s results at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships. If the results from the top two American finishers in a discipline add up to 13 (i.e. placing eighth and third would equal 11), the U.S. would send three athletes or teams to Beijing in that discipline; if the two top U.S. results in a discipline add up to 14 through 28, the U.S. sends two entries in that event.

Based on performances in Stockholm this past March, the U.S. is guaranteed to send two pairs teams – an improvement on the one in PyeongChang – and three ice dance teams, just as it has the past four Winter Olympics.

There is a caveat to the procedures this time around, though, stating that for a nation to qualify three spots in a discipline, that country must have had three entries in the free skate at Worlds.

Only two U.S. women competed in Stockholm – Karen Chen (fourth) and Bradie Tennell (ninth), and only two U.S. men qualified to the free skate – Nathan Chen (gold) and Jason Brown (seventh).

Enter Nebelhorn Trophy.

The Sept. 22-25 event in Oberstdorf, Germany, will award six men’s and six women’s Olympic spots to countries that have not yet earned any or those like the U.S. that need to confirm their placements earned at Worlds after having a disproportionate number of competitors there. If Liu or Zhou are not among the top six whose country is eligible for Olympic qualification, the U.S. will only send two athletes in their discipline.

Liu and Zhou were selected for the task after having the top scores at the Cranberry Cup International earlier this month, backing up their already impressive lists of accomplishments.

Liu became the youngest U.S. women’s champion in 2019 at age 13, repeated her win the following year then took bronze at the 2020 World Junior Championships. After a growth spurt and injury, she was fourth at the 2021 U.S. Championships. Now 16, the Olympic season marks Liu’s senior international debut.

Zhou, 20, was sixth at his Olympic debut three years ago, then earned bronze at the 2019 World Championships. The three-time U.S. silver medalist had a dismal short program performance at the 2021 Worlds, though, and finished 25th – just missing the cutoff for the free skate.

The athletes who actually compete at the Beijing Games will be announced after the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

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