PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman — and the third overall — to land a triple axel in the Olympics, accomplishing the rare feat in the women’s free skate Monday morning at the team competition.
The 24-year-old from Montebello, California, skated first of the five women and led off her routine with the triple axel just 21 seconds in. The feat drew huge cheers from the crowd at the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Japan’s Midori Ito and Mao Asada also have landed triple axels during the Olympics.
Nagasu completed a flawless routine, pumping her fists as she finished and got a standing ovation from the excited crowd. She received a personal-best score of 137.53.
Nagasu, whose career hit several roadblocks since finishing fourth at the 2010 Olympics — she was bumped from the United States team for Sochi in favor of Ashley Wagner by a federation committee — had the performance of her life. Not only did her teammates rise in applause, so did skaters from other nations, and not simply because she landed the triple axel so few women even attempt.
“I don’t know if you could tell — it was more something I could feel — but to nail it the way I did, even out of the corner of my eye I could see my teammates standing out of excitement,” Nagasu said.
“And at that moment I wanted to stop the music and get off, but I still had my whole program ahead of me, and to complete the performance to the best of my ability is really exciting.”
While the stars of Monday’s free skates were a Russian and Nagasu, Canada’s deep squad grabbed the team gold medal it so desperately sought. The top spot was clinched when Gabrielle Daleman finished third behind Russia’s Alina Zagitova and Nagasu.
The United States earned the bronze medal. It clinched third even before its ice dancers took the ice. Canada already was assured of the gold and the Russians had taken silver heading into the final discipline.
The Americans led Italy by four points, and when the Italian ice dancers, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, did not score well enough to win the free dance, the U.S. had replicated its third-place finish in the event at Sochi.
Just before Daleman’s clincher, Canada’s Patrick Chan won the men’s free skate against a weakened field. Canada won the team title despite a mediocre performance by 10-time national champion Chan. He landed two quads early in his free skate to bolster Canada’s lead. The 27-year-old had struggled with his jumps in the team event’s short program.
Chan scored a season-best 179.75, but he fell once, put his hand to the ice on another jump and cut short a combination. His artistry and higher-scoring elements boosted his mark significantly.
The skating was generally uninspiring in the men’s free skate, with Chan getting the highest score, followed by Russian Mikhail Kolyada, who received a score of 173.57.
Canada’s quest for a medal its skaters said they set about winning ever since they wound up second in Sochi was complete with one program remaining.
“I worked my butt off incredibly hard these past four years to get on this team,” Daleman said. “We have such an incredible, strong team, and I’m proud to say we’ve won and I’m prouder to have been part of it.”
Zagitova, the rising star from Russia and current European champion, topped Nagasu’s score by 20 points. The 15-year-old stamped herself as the main challenger to countrywoman Evgenia Medvedeva for the gold in the individual event with a brilliant combination of jumps, spins, artistry and overall presence.
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