GANGNEUNG, South Korea — It took the talent, grit, and artistry of eight American figure skaters over three days of competition at the Gangneung Ice Arena to deliver the United States a bronze medal in the team event at the PyeongChang Olympics.
But the most magical and pivotal contribution came from Mirai Nagasu, and it was over in an instant. In the span of one glorious eyeblink, Nagasu, who had been snubbed by US skating officials for a spot on the 2014 Olympic team, poured all she had worked toward these past four years into the opening jump of her free skate on the final day of the team competition.
And when she landed solidly on one foot, after making 3½ rotations in the air, Nagasu made history, becoming the first American women to land the high-risk triple axel in Olympic competition.
Her 4½-minute program, set to music from “Miss Saigon,” demanded eight more triple jumps, as well as high difficulty spins. But with history now on her résumé — and her US teammates weeping and cheering, fully grasping the depth of her courage and the trials of her career — Nagasu, 24, sailed through the remaining elements of her program with the joy of a child romping on a playground, grinning more broadly each time she ticked off a skill.
Triple Salchow. Double axel-triple toe loop-double toe loop. Triple Lutz-triple toe loop. She could do these jumps in her sleep.
“You did it, girl!” screamed her teammate, pairs skater Alexa Scimeca-Knierim, from the US team’s rinkside seats, loud enough for Nagasu to hear as she went into her final jump. She giggled to herself, which made her smile even broader.
“It’s historical and something no one can take away from me,” Nagasu said afterward. “I wanted to make America proud.”
The women’s skate represented the moment Nagasu had waited for since her fourth-place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
She awoke at 4 a.m., nervous about shouldering such a responsibility for her teammates and her country. But she didn’t give a thought to omitting the risky triple axel. That jump — and the prospect of becoming the first American and just the third woman in history to land it at the Olympics, after Japan’s Midori Ito and Mao Asada — was the sole reason she kept training after being passed over for the 2014 Olympic team. Even before she could do the triple axel, she dreamed she could. She dreamed of landing it so much, in fact, that she thinks she may have taught it to herself subliminally.
The falls, the bruises and aches over the years attest otherwise. But Monday was her moment. It was her vindication.
“Midori Ito, Mao Asada and now Mirai Nagasu: all Japanese heritage,” Nagasu said afterward, with a proud smile. “But I am fortunate that I am American, so I’ll be the first US lady to have landed the triple axel [in Olympic competition]. So today is a day of accomplishment for me.”