When she was passed over for an Olympic spot in 2014, Mirai Nagasu considered giving up figure skating. Instead, she used the snub as motivation.
It’s a good thing she stuck with it. On Sunday, Nagasu, 24, became the first American woman to land a triple axel during the Olympics, helping lift the U.S. team to a bronze medal in team competition.
“This is definitely history, or herstory, whatever way you want to put it,” she said after her performance.
The triple axel — a jump with 3 1/2 rotations, and the only one with a forward-facing takeoff — is the rarest of feats in figure skating.
Just seven women have successfully landed one in competition, including Tonya Harding at Skate America in 1991, a pivotal moment in the Oscar-nominated biopic “I, Tonya,” about the disgraced two-time Olympian. Though it was Harding’s signature move, she never landed one in the Olympics.
Nagasu became the third woman to land the triple axel at the Olympics. Two Japanese athletes, Midori Ito, in 1992, and Mao Asada, in 2010 and 2014, were the previous women to land the jump in Olympic competition. The jump has become more common for male skaters since Brian Orser, a Canadian, was the first to land one in 1984 at Sarajevo.
Nagasu’s performance Sunday, set to “Miss Saigon,” included eight other triple jumps and earned her a score of 137.43 points, good for second place in the free skate.
It was not the first time she has landed the triple axel, having first pulled it off at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in September. In an article on Team USA’s website, she said the rare feat would help to reclaim her spot on the Olympic team.
“This year I was able to really get a feel for it and so when I started to land it, it was a very satisfactory feeling,” she said in December. “I could always visualize myself doing the jump, it was just getting my muscles to react as they needed to.”
She said she was successful about 70 percent of the time during practice in the summer, increasing to about 80 percent in the fall. By December, she said it was “as good if not better than some of my other jumps.”
She won her first U.S. Figure Skating championship at 14, becoming the second-youngest senior women’s winner. She placed fourth in the women’s event at the 2010 Olympics when she was 16.
But her absence on the 2014 Olympic team, a year in which she placed third at the U.S. championships but was passed over for Ashley Wagner, left her heartbroken.
Adam Rippon, a runaway star for the men’s team this year, was also left off the team in 2014, and they leaned on each other for support, he told Team USA’s website.
“It wasn’t good,” he said. “I told her as we were going through that, I said, ‘Mirai, I’m so lucky to have you by my side. We’re going to get through this together.’ And I kept telling her. I say it every five minutes. We room together at the village.”
Nagasu, from Arcadia, California, was the first American woman to return to the team after being left off at a prior Olympics.
And she appeared to be relishing the moment. On Twitter, she said she was “still on cloud nine":
Still on cloud 9 https://t.co/klT8t0mI6I— Mirai Nagasu (@mirai_nagasu) February 12, 2018
“Today has been the best day ever,” she said.