Tonya Harding was famously the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition. That moment, which serves as one of the dramatic centerpieces of the movie I, Tonya, took place at the 1991 U.S. figure skating championships. But Harding was never able to pull off her trademark jump in the Olympic Games. Twenty-seven years later, Mirai Nagasu became the first American to accomplish that feat, sticking the landing during the ladies’ free skate of the Pyeongchang Games’ team competition.
1998 gold medalist Tara Lipinski’s commentary on NBC: “YES!”
Nagasu said in the run-up to these games that the jump was “worth the risk … and worth going down in history for.” In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Joyce after she skated on Monday, Nagasu said that “to nail that triple axel, I tripped a couple of times going into it because I was so nervous, but to tell myself, No, I’m going to go for it 100 percent and not pull back. That was really special for me.”
Brian Orser was the first man to do a triple axel at the Olympics, accomplishing that milestone at the 1984 Sarajevo Games. Four years later, Japan’s Midori Ito became the first woman to do it in competition. In 1992, Ito landed the jump during her free skate program at the Albertville Olympics.
Ito, who also fell twice in Albertville while attempting the maneuver, had to settle for silver behind the United States’ Kristi Yamaguchi.
Eighteen years later, another Japanese skater, Mao Asada, landed three triple axels in Vancouver. Asada, too, won the silver, as those jumps weren’t enough to push her past South Korea’s Kim Yuna. Here’s one of those triple axels, from Asada’s short program.
Like Ito and Asada, Nagasu isn’t expected to win gold in Pyeongchang. But she had it exactly right: The triple axel was worth the risk, and she’s now gone down in history.
One more thing
If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.Join Slate Plus