Eight years ago, 16-year-old Mirai Nagasu (USA) stormed on to the Olympic scene in Vancouver and came fourth. The lively young skater from California looked like she would be the next American skating queen. But already the ISU World Figure Skating Championships that year in Torino, Italy, were an indication of the rollercoaster of a career that Mirai was going to have: She won the short program ahead of Olympic medalists Mao Asada and Yuna Kim and then dropped to seventh in the Free Skating.
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Now, at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Nagasu landed a triple Axel in the team event Free Skating to help USA winning the bronze medal. And even though this difficult jump eluded her in the individual event, where she placed 10th, the 24-year-old made history by becoming the first American – and only the third Lady overall – to perform a triple Axel on Olympic ice.
“Going into it, I was like a train and I was like, ‘Get on the tracks and get some speed.’ And, I tripped a couple times. 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 team-mates standing out of excitement,” Nagasu said.
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Delivering that performance and taking the Olympic bronze medal with her team was a highlight for the Japanese-American skater that had to go through many ups and downs. In 2014, Nagasu ranked third at the National Championships but Ashley Wagner was selected over her for the Olympic spot as her overall results in the season had been better. Many others would have retired in disappointment, but Mirai decided to go on and to fight.
“Four years ago when I was left off the team, I wanted to make another Olympic team, and I knew I would really have to be something special,” she said. “So to become the first American to land a triple Axel at the Olympic Games is historical, and no one can take that away from me.”
And no one can take the Olympic medal away from her that she earned with her team.
“I delivered when it counted for me and really felt like I skated for the team. I haven’t stopped crying since. I set out to win a medal and I did it. It’s been a long time coming and eight years later I am taking a medal home,” the Californian noted.
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Nagasu moved away from home to train in Colorado Springs under Tom Zakrajsek in 2014 when she decided she needed a change to give her career a new direction. She set out to learn the triple Axel, a jump that less than ten women have landed in competition since Midori Ito (JPN) became the first one at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 1989.
The 24-year-old, who speaks fluent Japanese, proved that perseverance pays off. She secured her Olympic spot this time by finishing second at the National Championships, her best result since 2010 when she was also second, she made it back to the Olympic Games and she will compete in her third World Championships in Milan, Italy.
You can be sure that she’ll go for the triple Axel again.