Mirai Nagasu has become the first American woman — and third overall — to land a triple axel in the Olympics, accomplishing the rare feat in the women’s free skate at the team competition in Pyeongchang.
The 24-year-old from Arcadia, California, skated first of the five women and led her routine with the triple axel 21 seconds in. The feat drew huge cheers from the crowd at the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Nagasu completed a flawless routine, pumped both fists as she finished and got a standing ovation from the excited crowd.
Although Canada won team skate gold, Nagasu was the star of the night, and the Americans took bronze behind the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Not only did her teammates rise in applause, but so did skaters from other nations, and not simply because she landed the triple axel so few women even attempt.
Nagasu’s career hit several roadblocks since she finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics, including when she was bumped from the U.S. team for Sochi in favor of Ashley Wagner by a federation committee.
Like Nagasu, Adam Rippon was left off the U.S. roster in 2010. And like Nagasu, he turned in a stellar performance Monday, landing both triple axels in his program.
“I just remember four years ago, Mirai and I were in a dark place. Honestly, we were depressed that we weren’t at the [Olympics],” said Rippon, who choreographed Nagasu’s gala program at the 2014 nationals, which she performed hours after learning she hadn’t made the team. “I told her as we were going through that, Mirai, I’m so lucky to have you by my side. We’re going to get through this together.”
In the wake of that rejection, Nagasu turned to Colorado Springs-based coach Tom Zakrajsek, who challenged her to become an even better competitor. They set out in their first session together four years ago to learn the jump, which took Nagasu about two years to master. She practices it about 30 times a day, according to Zakrajsek.
Nagasu has struggled with inconsistency throughout her career, but Zakrajsek wasn’t worried about his student on Monday.
“Today was different,” he said. “Today I knew Mirai didn’t need a lot of help. I could tell she was in a good place backstage in the off-ice warm-up. She just seemed very present.”
“I don’t know if you could tell — it was more something I could feel — but to nail it the way I did, even out of the corner of my eye, I could see my teammates standing out of excitement,” Nagasu said. “And at that moment I wanted to stop the music and get off, but I still had my whole program ahead of me, and to complete the performance to the best of my ability is really exciting.”
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