I digress from my usual coverage of horseracing to an unabashed fangirl squealing over Mirai Nagasu’s flawless execution of a triple axel in Pyeongchang.
Nagasu landed the jump in the initial stages of her free skating program held at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Feb. 12.
The reason for scheduling the triple axel that early on, she said, was so that she would have “fresh legs” for the attempt.
After successfully landing the jump, she skated the rest of the program with ease and delight, effortlessly landing a triple salchow, double axel-triple toe loop-double toe loop, and triple lutz-triple toe loop, among other figures.
Nagasu is the first American woman to land the difficult jump in the Olympics and the third woman to do so behind Japan’s Midori Ito in 1992 and Mao Asada in 2010. Nagasu is also the third American woman to perform the triple axel in international competition after Tonya Harding in 1991 and Kimmie Meissner in 2005.
Note the long gaps in time in between each skater’s achievement —that shows what a tremendous achievement landing a triple axel is for a female skater. One reason for the difficulty is that the jump starts with a forward takeoff and not the usual backward takeoff for other jumps.
What’s even more interesting about Nagasu’s story is that she was not selected to join Team USA for Sochi 2014, even after finishing third in the 2014 US Figure Skating Championships. In a controversial decision, she was passed over in favor of the fourth place finisher Ashley Wagner. It seemed that authorities at the time also failed to give weight to Nagasu’s fourth place finish in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
Nevertheless, she persisted. She focused on perfecting her triple axel, made the US team this time around, and convincingly vindicated herself with a stellar performance in Pyeongchang that helped elevate the US skating team’s scores enough for them to earn bronze.
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Figure skating might be the most popular sport for spectators of the Winter Olympics. Even folks who do not understand the sport’s technicalities can appreciate the artistry and grace of the skaters, who combine dancing with enormous physical strength and control.
My favorite Olympic skate program of all time is Oksana Baiul’s short program at Lillehammer 1994. Dressed as the Black Swan, she skated to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Her background in classical ballet was evident as she executed jumps, spins, and gestures with a dancer’s finesse. Only 16 at the time, she is, up to now, Ukraine’s only gold medalist at the Games.
Baiul won narrowly over the US. A’s Nancy Kerrigan for the gold that time, and it was her artistry that gave her the edge, said the judges. While Kerrigan executed more technically difficult jumps, she did so with the grace of a robot. Baiul, on the other hand, danced a ballet on ice and turned in an unforgettable performance.
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Dr. Ortuoste is a writer and communications consultant. Facebook: Gogirl Racing
and @DrJennyO, Twitter: @gogirlracing