How Mirai Nagasu Became the First American Woman to Land a Triple Axel at the Olympics

As you eagerly devour the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, you might be wondering which athletes to keep a close eye on for their seemingly superhero-like powers and determination to take on the impossible. If figure skating is your thing, the top name on your list should be Mirai Nagasu.

You might remember Mirai from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where she finished fourth, or from the controversy surrounding the 2014 games in Sochi, which Mirai didn't qualify to attend despite placing third at US nationals, with the US Olympic Committee sending Ashley Wagner in her place.

All of that is in the past now, as Mirai competes at this year's Olympic games a secret weapon by her side: the triple axel.

The triple axel, a jump that requires three and a half rotations in the air (one more rotation than the commonly seen double axel) is known to be a difficult jump that requires tremendous strength and the ability to spin quickly — but it's worth it. The base value of a triple axel is 8.5 points, while a double axel is only worth 3.3 points.

Mirai is only the second female US figure skater to land the jump in an international competition, when she won a silver medal at the US International Figure Skating Classic in September 2017. Tonya Harding, better known for the controversy surrounding her and fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, was the first American female figure skater to land the jump at the 1991 US Figure Skating National Championship.

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Mirai does at least ten triple axels a day in practice, and has said she is now 80 percent successful at completing the jump. While she didn't quite land it it at this year's nationals, that didn't stop her from trying and expertly landing the jump at the Olympics during her long program as part of the figure skating team competition on Sunday, Feb. 11.

"You should make a big deal out of it, because I'm one of three [women] to land [the triple axel] in the US, and I'm really proud of that fact," Mirai said in a Team USA interview. "I think it's something that I can really use to my advantage and I hope to be rewarded for it." She certainly was as she became the first American women and third women ever to land a triple axel on the Olympic ice (Midori Ito and Mao Asada from Japan are the only two names on the list as Tonya Harding didn't successfully complete the jump at the 1992 Winter Olympics).