Column: Americans capture bronze but it was Mirai Nagasu’s momentous achievement that stole the show
Winter Olympics: First weekend recap
As a little girl, Mirai Nagasu formed her Olympic dreams while she slept on a cot in the storage room of her parents’ sushi restaurant in Arcadia. After years of disappointments and near-misses Nagasu made those dreams come true — and made Olympic history.
Nagasu, who finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics and was passed over for the 2014 Sochi team, landed a flawless triple axel jump to launch her long program in the figure skating team event Monday at Gangneung Ice Arena.
She became only the third woman to land the 31/2-rotation jump in the Olympics, after Japan’s Midori Ito (1992) and Mao Asada (2010), an impressive feat that led the U.S. to its second consecutive bronze medal in the team competition.
Canada, which picked up victories Monday by Patrick Chan in the men’s long program and ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the free dance, won the team gold medal with 73 points. The Olympic Athletes from Russia had 66 and the U.S. had 62.
“This is history. Or herstory, whatever way you want to say it,” said Nagasu, who left Southern California in 2014 to train in Colorado Springs, Colo., with Tom Zakrajsek.
“This is really sweet, and I cannot wait to go give everybody a hug because I am so proud of myself and so proud of my teammates.”
While earning a personal-best 137.53 points, Nagasu became the third American woman to land a triple axel in competition, joining Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner. Alina Zagitova of the OAR won the segment with 158.08 points with a stunning routine that featured backloaded jumps that allowed her to capitalize on the bonuses awarded for jumps done in the second half of a program.
But Nagasu’s momentous achievement stole the show.
“I knew in my heart that this day would come,” Nagasu said. “When I first moved to Tom, I asked him, ‘I want you to teach me a triple axel.’ I would have dreams that I could do this jump. ... Subconsciously, I taught myself how to do this jump, and to nail it here today is super exciting.”
Adam Rippon skated an artistically pleasing long program that lacked quadruple jumps but showcased his superb spins, placing third in his Olympic debut. Canada’s Chan, who landed two quadruple jumps but fell on a triple axel and put a hand down on a triple loop, had the highest score Monday, 179.75, ahead of Mikhail Kolyada of the OAR (173.57) and Rippon (172.98).
“I’m really excited that I was able to go out there and show who I am and skate so strong,” said Rippon, who trains at The Rinks-Lakewood Ice. “This is a moment I’ve been waiting for my entire life. Now, I’m actually an Olympian. They have footage. They have records. Let the record show Adam Rippon is an Olympian.”
Let the record also show he had tears in his eyes during Nagasu’s performance, remembering the dark days they shared after they didn’t get to be part of the 2014 Olympic team. Almost every skater encounters injuries or defeat. The best ones use setbacks as motivation.
“These are some pretty sweet, awesome human beings,” Rippon said.
Canada also won the ice dance free dance segment, with Virtue and Moir outscoring American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, 118.10 to 112.01.
“I’m just so proud of this entire team,” Maia Shibutani said. “I think we’ll come into the individual event with so much more confidence.”
Redmond Gerard of the United States practice ahead of the Snowboard Men’s Slopestyle Final.(David Ramos / Getty Images)
Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana starts his mens skeleton training session at the Olympic Sliding Centre.(MARK RALSTON / AFP/Getty Images)
USA’s Adam Rippon (C) reacts after competing in the figure skating team event men’s single skating free skating.(ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP/Getty Images)
Kaori Sakamoto of Japan performs in the ladies single skating free skating.(Bernat Armangue / AP)
Japan’s Keiji Tanaka competes in the figure skating team event men’s single skating free skating.(ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP/Getty Images)
Matteo Rizzo of Italy performs in the men’s single skating free skating.(Bernat Armangue / AP)
Russian athletes gather around the goal before the Women’s Ice Hockey Preliminary Round - Group A game.(Pool / Getty Images)
David Gleirscher of Austria celebrates winning the gold following run 4 during the Luge Men’s Singles.(Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images)
Canada’s Justine Dufour-Lapointe celebrates during the victory ceremony after the women’s moguls final event.(LOIC VENANCE / AFP/Getty Images)
Yulia Galysheva of Kazakhstan competes during the Freestyle Skiing Ladies’ Moguls Final on day two.(Clive Mason / Getty Images)
Finland’s Mira Jalosuo (top) checks USA’s Haley Skarupa in the first period of the women’s preliminary round ice hockey match between Finland and the US.(GRIGORY DUKOR / AFP/Getty Images)
Jan Blokhuijsen, of the Netherlands, strains as he competes during the men’s 5,000 meters speedskating race at the Gangneung Oval.(Vadim Ghirda / AP)
Canada’s Andi Naude competes in the women’s moguls final 2.(MARTIN BUREAU / AFP/Getty Images)
Italy’s Federica Brignone has her face covered in tape to protect her from the cold during an inspection of the giant slalom course at the Yongpyong Alpine Center at the 2018 Winter Olympics on Sunday.(Michael Probst / Associated Press)
Italy’s Valentina Marchei and Italy’s Ondrej Hotarek compete in the figure skating team event pair skating free skating during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on Sunday.(Mladen Antonov / AFP/Getty Images)
Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva competes in the figure skating team event women’s single skating short program during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on Sunday.(Roberto Schmidt / AFP/Getty Images)
Lim Hyojun of South Korea celebrates after winning the men’s 1,500 meters short-track speedskating final in the Gangneung Ice Arena.(Bernat Armangue / AP)
Tucker West of the United States slides during the Men’s singles luge at Olympic Sliding Centre.(Clive Mason / Getty Images)
The Unified Korean team gathers before their preliminary round game against Switzerland.(JUNG YEON-JE / AFP/Getty Images)
Hongzhi Xu of China and Nurbergen Zhumagaziyev of Kazakhstan collide and crash out during the men’s 1500 meters short track speed skating heat in the Gangneung Ice Arena.(Julie Jacobson / AP)
South Korea’s goalie Shin So-jung (31), of the combined Koreas team, watches the puck goes into the goal shot by Phoebe Staenz (88), of Switzerland, during the second period of the preliminary round of the women’s hockey game.(Brian Snyder / AP)
Two skaters from Italy warm up for the men’s 5,000 meters race at the Gangneung Oval.(Petr David Josek / AP)
Seo Jung-hwa, of South Korea, jumps during the women’s moguls qualifying ahead at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.(Jonathan Hayward / Associated Press)
Melanie Meilinger of Austria runs the course during the women’s moguls qualifying at the 2018 Winter Olympics.(Kin Cheung / Associated Press)
Aleksandr Smyshliaev of Olympic Athletes from Russia competes during the men’s freestyle skiing moguls qualification at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.(Ryan Pierse / Getty Images)
Jussi Penttala of Finland crashes during the men’s moguls qualifying at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics.(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)
Mikael Kingsbury of Canada takes first place during the freestyle skiing men’s and women’s moguls qualifications at the Winter Games.(Laurent Salino/Agence Zoom / Getty Images)
Kijeong Lee of Korea delivers a stone during the Curling Mixed Doubles Round Robin match.(Robert Cianflone / Getty Images)
United States’ siblings Matt and Becca Hamilton huddle to discuss their strategy during their mixed doubles curling match against Switzerland at the 2018 Winter Olympics.(Aaron Favila / Associated Press)
Switzerland Martin Rios prepare to throw the stone during their mixed doubles curling match against Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics.(Aaron Favila / Associated Press)
Canada’s John Morris throws the stone during the curling mixed doubles round-robin competition between the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 8 at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.(Wang Zhao / AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. curler Becca Hamilton delivers a stone against Canada in a mixed doubles round-robin matchup on Feb. 8.(Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)
Estonia’s Artti Aigro takes flight in the men’s ski jumping qualifying on Feb. 8.(Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP/Getty Images)
The Americans captured bronze in the inaugural team event at Sochi, behind Russia and Canada. This time, bronze medals will go to Nagasu, Bradie Tennell (women’s short program), Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim (pairs short and long programs), Nathan Chen (men’s short program), Rippon (long program) and the Shibutanis (short and free dances).
They supported each other energetically. As Nagasu skated past the teams’ viewing boxes with about 30 seconds left in her program, she heard Scimeca Knierim’s voice through all the noise yelling, “You did it, girl.” Nagasu wasn’t done yet, but it was a great tension-breaker for Nagasu.
“It was a nice little giggle at the end because the long program is a test of our muscle ability and stamina,” she said.
“It was my goal and dream to be selected to the Olympic team, so I knew going into it the amount of responsibility I was given. As athletes we want to represent our country to the best of our ability. We have Midori Ito, Mao Asada and now Mirai Nagasu. All of Japanese heritage, but I’m really fortunate that I’m American. So I’ll be the first U.S. lady to land the triple axel and so today was an accomplishment for me.”
It also positions Nagasu nicely for the women’s competition next week, although Zagitova and teammate Evgenia Medvedeva were dazzling in this event.
“I think a lot of people in figure skating considered Mirai a darkhorse for the podium,” Zakrajsek said, “and I think this just kind of cements that everybody should pay attention, and let’s see what she can do.”
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