Opining on Olympic Team Event (part 3): An ode to Mirai Nagasu

Embed from Getty Images

I can't. I just can't.

For every skating fan who has followed Mirai Nagasu's story for the past decade - and then for every new fan who became enthralled today at her performance - that free skate was for you.

And it may have been the most thrilling skate of her life ... so far.

The record

Mirai Nagasu became the third woman in history - and the first American - to land a triple axel at the Olympics. And she followed that by becoming the first woman to land eight clean triples at the Olympics (as far as I have researched, the only other woman to do it in international competition is Rika Kihira at 2016 JGP Slovenia).

And though Nagasu is still very much a dark horse for the individual podium, she has made a statement early in these Olympics that she is better than ever - when everyone thought she maxed out four years ago.

The history

Her time in the spotlight started a full decade ago, when she won her first (and still only) U.S. title at 14, just a year after breaking through for a silver at Junior Worlds. And since, it's just been a complete rollercoaster. Look at where she's been - off the Nationals podium the next year, then fourth at the Olympics in 2010, and then without real direction, and at times without a sense of motivation, for the next four years as she showed moments of brilliance but never the consistency that she needed to build off that Olympic finish.

Related: The diverging careers of Zhang, Nagasu, and Wagner

And then came 2014. She was not selected for the Olympic team after a taking bronze at the 2014 U.S. Championships, with her catalog of results relative to the eventual 2014 Olympians leaving her off the team. In a world as brutal and fleeting as figure skating, almost every skater would have taken solace in that US title, that 4th-place Olympic finish, that feeling that she might have already peaked, and called it a career.


She translated that disappointment into fuel, changed her environment and moved to Colorado Springs to train with Tom Zakrajsek, and embarked on a quest to retool her work ethic to become a skater she never even imagined existed. 

It started paying off in 2016, when she returned to Worlds and finished tenth with a new-found consistency and confidence that she never had before in her career. The year after, she started to chase after her triple axel dreams. But nerves got the best of her at the 2017 US Championships and she finished a place off the World team.

Disappointment yes, but she took it as a mere bump on the road back to the Olympics.

This season has been nothing but fight - she finally found that triple axel in the pre-season and was relentless in her pursuit to become the eighth woman ever to land it in international competition. And all the while, her jumps have never been stronger nor cleaner.

The skater who didn't even have a triple salchow four years ago now became one of the very few women with the full array of triple jumps. And when the 2018 US Championships came along and she hit some nerves again, she just let the confidence that built through her work ethic speak for itself. 

Embed from Getty Images

The Olympic medal

And so when it came time for her second Olympics, and her first appearance in the Team Event, it was a no-brainer. You had doubts, but no, you really didn't. Mirai Nagasu just knew how to skate, and after that triple axel launched, she soared.

As she unwinds and refocuses for the individual event with Olympic bronze in hand, might we see that magic again? Might Mirai Nagasu find a way to carve a path to the Olympic podium?