Winter Olympics 2018

Nagasu breaks fresh ground

Mirai Nagasu roaring with pride after her stellar routine in the team competition that began with a scintillating triple axel jump. Her first Olympics were in Vancouver in 2010 but she was left off the team four years ago.
Mirai Nagasu roaring with pride after her stellar routine in the team competition that began with a scintillating triple axel jump. Her first Olympics were in Vancouver in 2010 but she was left off the team four years ago.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

American is 3rd woman to nail triple axel at Games, Canada win team figure skating gold

GANGNEUNG (South Korea) • Four years ago, American figure skater Mirai Nagasu was heartbroken after being left off the United States team for the Sochi Olympics in favour of a woman who ranked lower than she had at a key qualifying event.

But yesterday, the 24-year-old whose Japanese immigrant parents run a sushi restaurant in California and mother hand-sewed her costumes, made skating history by becoming the first American woman - and only the third woman overall - to land the triple axel jump at an Olympics.

Skating a stellar routine in the women's free skate portion of the team competition, she began with a clean triple axel and then went on to nail eight other triple jumps, including a triple flip and triple salchow combination as she helped America claim bronze.

Clearly overjoyed, Nagasu, who was skating at her second Olympics, pumped her fists and grinned as she skated off the ice.

"I feel really great," she said. "Going into it, I was like a train, get on those tracks and get some speed. To nail it the way I did - and even out of the corner of my eye, I could see my team-mates standing in excitement."

The only other women to land the jump in the Olympics were Japanese skaters Midori Ito (1992) and Mao Asada (2010), and Nagasu joked that perhaps her ancestry had played a part.

"Maybe it's the Japanese genetics - but lucky for me I'm American, so I'll be the first US lady," she added.

She was snubbed for Sochi in 2014 despite finishing third in the US nationals as the selectors handed the Olympic berth to Ashley Wagner, who was fourth.

Nagasu, whose first name means "future" in Japanese, began skating at the age of five while idolising two-time Olympic medallist and skater Michelle Kwan.

As her career took off, she said it was sometimes difficult to keep going on the income from a restaurant. And unfortunately, her parents were not in South Korea to see her make history.

She said that her sushi chef father rarely had the chance to see her skate because he almost never closed his restaurant, and now is no different.

"Three weeks is a long time, especially to leave work," she said.

"They're only coming for the last week but I'm sure they're home now watching it. I can't wait to see them."

At the conclusion of the event yesterday with the men's, women's and ice dance free skates at the Gangneung Ice Arena, Canada and the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) took gold and silver respectively.

Canada finished on 73 points, with OAR on 66 and the US a further four points behind.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2018, with the headline 'Nagasu breaks fresh ground'. Print Edition | Subscribe