“HOLY COW!” Former Olympic U.S. figure skater and NBC sports commentator Tara Lipinski shouted after Mirai Nagasu attempted, and landed, a triple axel during the highly-anticipated team figure skating competition.
On Feb. 11, Nagasu became the third female figure skater and the first American woman to land a triple axel on the Olympic stage. The jump is currently the most difficult in female figure skating, requiring the athlete to rotate 3.5 times in the air before landing on the opposite skate than the one from which they used to jump. Prior to Nagasu’s success, Tonya Harding had been the only American woman to attempt and complete a triple axel during an international competition. Harding first landed the jump in 1991 at a Skate America competition in Oakland but fell when she attempted it at both the 1992 and the 1994 Olympic Games.
For Nagasu, the road to the 2018 Winter Olympics and her historic moment was a long one. She made her Olympic debut in the 2010 Games, held in Vancouver, Canada, but did not medal. Although she finished third in the 2014 Olympic Qualifiers, she was not one of the three female figure skaters selected to compete in the Games. In spite of this disappointment, Nagasu continued to train and was rewarded with a spot on the 2018 U.S. figure skating squad.
Needless to say, figure skater and longtime fan Anna Vargas ’20 was thrilled when she learned Nagasu would be competing in the 2018 Winter Games and attempting a triple axel. “The United States has recently been at least two steps behind in the skating world, so the prospect of an American skater, my favorite American skater, landing a triple axel and planning to compete with it was so exciting. It’s something no one other woman in the world was doing. I couldn’t watch her that night, but I [was] constantly refreshing my Twitter feed. I was so proud to hear that she landed it!” she commented.
The triple axel has changed the course of woman’s figure skating. When Harding was competing in the early 90s, female figure skaters were expected to look ladylike and graceful both on and off the ice. Oftentimes, a skater’s appearance and artistry was considered as important, if not more important, than a skater’s athletic ability. Now that three women have successfully landed the triple axel on the Olympic stage, professional female figure skaters are being pushed by coaches, fans and judges to attempt the difficult jump.
Fans of women’s figure skating are pleased with how the sport has progressed in recent years and are proud of athletes like Nagasu who continue to push the envelope. With that being said, many hope to see even more from female figure skaters in the near future. Vargas shared, “Some experts in the sport say it’s possible that we might see quintuples in our lifetimes. Yet when Mirai Nagasu, or any other female skater, does a triple axel right, you can almost feel it in the air how absolute it is. That, in and of itself, is incredible.”