During the figure skating team competition on Sunday night, 24-year-old Mirai Nagasu became the first American in history to land a triple axel jump at the Olympics. She also became just the second American woman to land the jump in international competition, and the first do so in nearly 27 years – since Tonya Harding landed a triple axel at the 1991 World Championships.
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Nagasu put the jump at the start of her program when he legs were still fresh, a decision that paid off in not just boosting her morale for the rest of the performance, but also in maximizing her final score. She finished with a huge technical score of 73.38 and a total score of 137.53, a personal best.
Nagasu joins Midori Ito and Mao Asada , both from Japan, as the only women ever to land a triple axel at the Olympics. American Kimmie Meissner also landed a triple axel at the 2005 U.S. Nationals, but Harding and Nagasu remain two of just eight women ever to land the jump at international competition.
The reason there are so few female skaters in history who have a triple axel in the arsenal of jumps is essentially the same reason that no skater, man or woman, has ever landed a quad axel in competition. The axel is the only jump with a forward facing entry, so every jump actually has an extra half of a rotation. A triple axel actually requires three-and-a-half rotations in the air rather than the three rotations in ever other triple jump.