W.Pa. skaters celebrate Mirai Nagasu's Olympic triple axel
Figure skaters in Western Pennsylvania are excited and inspired by Mirai Nagasu's free skate performance at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games on Monday, where she became the first American woman to nail the triple axel on the Olympic stage.
Figure skating coach Beth Sutton said she teared up during Nagasu's performance, which came four years after Nagasu was passed up for a spot on the 2014 Sochi Olympic team, despite a third-place finish at that year's national championships.
"When you see a skater go out there and they have their moment after all that training and the effort and the tears and the joys ... for me as a coach and a skater there's nothing better," said Sutton, director of figure skating at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center. "After four years of having this great disappointment and then having four years of training and hard work and not giving up, she was able to go out there and not only get to the Olympics, but became the first female to land a triple axel in competition. That kind of pressure and build up after eight years is amazing."
Figure skaters perform several jumps during their on ice routines, but the axel is the only one that has a takeoff from a forward edge with a backwards landing.
A triple axel consists of 3 1/2 rotations. The extra 1/2 rotation comes from its forward takeoff.
Male skaters regularly perform the triple axel at the national and international level, but the only other female skaters who have landed the jump at the Olympics were Japan's Midori Ito and Mao Asada. American female skater Tonya Harding did try the jump at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, but failed in her attempt. She and fellow American skater Kimmie Meissner have both landed the jump succesfully in other competitions.
"It's a very rare accomplishment," said Bob Mock, director and figure skating coach of Harmar-based Ice and Blades of Western Pennsylvania. "We had Tonya Harding in our training camp, and she would challenge the male skaters to a triple axel competiton ... and she would smoke them. Unfortunately, she just wasn't able (to) land it at the Olympics."
The triple axel is difficult in all aspects. Skaters have to garner enough momentum to get into the air, rotate 3 1/2 times, and stop their rotation and land on one foot.
Nagasu, 24, trained both on and off the ice to land the jump, which Sutton said takes daily training.
"When you come out of the air you (have) three times your body weight coming down on that little tiny thin blade that has to hold you up," Sutton said. "Not only does that take a lot of body strength but that takes mental strength, as well."
Nagasu used a harness to train for the jump off the ice. She posted a video of that training to her Instagram account , where she can be seen spinning tightly and quickly in the air as a trainer holds her up by one end of a harness.
"To try to convey the feeling of a triple axel ... it is a fast jump," Nagasu said. "The faster you spin, the harder it is to basically breathe, because there's so much force and you have to stay controlled."
Mock and Sutton said skaters at their rinks are excited about Nagasu's accomplishment. Some have even had a chance to see Nagasu skate in person and take pictures with her.
Lily Carone, 15, who skates with Ice and Blades of Western Pennsylvania, met Nagasu at the Olympic training center in Colorado last year. She wasn't available for an interview, but her mom Stacy Carone said her daughter had been hoping Nagasu would land her triple axel.
"She has been a big fan of Mirai, and is very happy that she landed the triple," Carone said of her daughter, who is currently working on her double axel, which is 2 1/2 turns. "She certainly appreciates having to rotate and jump and all the training that goes into it. It's nice to see the skaters watch the girls in the Olympics and really get inspired by them. That's what it does."
RMU skaters also got to meet Nagasu and take pictures with her during a collegiate skating event at RMU, Sutton said. She said they have been posting the photos they took with Nagasu on social media, congratulating her.
"They're real excited and that inspires them, for sure," Sutton said. "It also shows the girls that with perseverance and dedication — and the boys — that anything can be accomplished."
Mock said Nagasu has broken new ground for American figure skating and her performance should be an inspiration for other female American skaters.
"This is a big breakthrough for American skating and puts us on a level playing field competitively at the world Olympic levels," Mock said.
The Washington Post contributed to this report. Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @maddyczebstrib.