Team USA Defends Olympic Team Event Bronze Medal in PyeongChang
By Troy Schwindt
Mirai Nagasu made history on Monday morning at Gangneung Ice Arena by becoming the first U.S. ladies skater to land a triple Axel at the Olympics, helping to propel Team USA to the bronze medal in the Team Event with her second-place finish in the free skate.
The ice dance team of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani also finished second in the free dance, while Adam Rippon placed third in the men’s free skate. Canada captured the gold medal with 73 points; Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) earned silver with 66 points, while the United States secured the bronze medal with a score of 62. Team USA earned the bronze medal in the inaugural Team Event in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
The 24-year-old from Arcadia, California, joins the elite company of Japan’s Midori Ito and Mao Asada as the only female skaters to have ever landed the extremely difficult jump at the Olympics.
“It’s a lot of pressure and stress to come out here,” Nagasu said after her performance. “It was my goal and dream to be here and to be selected to the Olympic Team, so I knew going into it the amount of responsibility that I was given. As athletes, we want to represent our country to the best of our ability. Midori Ito, Mao Asada and now Mirai Nagasu, all of Japanese heritage, but I’m fortunate that I’m American so I’ll be the first U.S. lady to have land a triple Axel (at the Olympics). Today is a day of accomplishment for me.”
Nagasu, first to skate, landed eight triple jumps, three in combination. She didn’t receive a single negative mark for an under-rotated jump, which she recognized as major accomplishment for her.
“Today was an unforgettable experience; even from the beginning I was very nervous,” Nagasu said. “This is a team event, and to have my program to support Team USA, I felt a lot of pressure because it’s a responsibility and a job, and I owe it to my teammates as well.”
Nagasu had plenty of support from her teammates, especially from longtime training mate and friend, Alexa Scimeca-Knierim. Scimeca-Knierim made sure to yell, ‘Start, start, start’ as the time for Nagasu to take her starting position dwindled under 30 seconds. Then with one jump left in her Miss Saigon program, Nagasu heard that familiar voice again.
“I heard her say, ‘You did it girl,’” Nagasu said. “I was like, ‘I still have one more jump.’ It was a nice little giggle at the end, because the long program is a test of our muscle ability and stamina, so for her to make me laugh like that made me relax a little bit. Nailing that last jump was everything.”
Nagasu finished second with a score of 137.53. OAR’s Alina Zagitova won the event with a score of 158.08.
The Shibutanis also notched key points for Team USA, with their dramatic free dance to Coldplay’s “Paradise.” They received five Level 4 elements, including a program-high score for their circular step sequence.
“I’m speechless,” Maia said of being part of the Olympic bronze medal-winning team. “It’s been such a journey for us, so much work. To experience this Olympic medal not just with each other, but also with our friends and teammates, it’s a great way to start our second Olympic Winter Games.”
“I’m so proud of Maia and our teammates,” Alex said. “It’s been an amazing journey for us to get to this point. But we’ve also known for a while now that the plan has been to compete in the team event and also bring home a medal in the individual event. I’m proud of the effort that we put forth this week.
“This was our first team event, so it’s an honor to be selected and chosen to skate both the short and the free. I feel proud and excited and I just know our confidence is going to be at another level going into next week, having had the experience of winning a medal, but also the experience of being out there on the ice and taking way the things that we can learn from our performance and ways we can make improvements is invaluable.”
The Shibutanis finished with a score of 112.01, while Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the event with 118.10 points.
Rippon started the day by delivering a sterling free skate with his “Arrival of the Birds” program, in which he debuted a new costume.
The 28-year-old set the tone early by landing his triple flip-triple loop combination. It was a jumping pass he had struggled with in warm-up. From there, Rippon showcased his world-class skating skating skills and performance qualities that ended with an exquisite spin at center ice.
An underrotated triple Lutz, though, near the end of the program likely cost the veteran second place. He finished with a score of 172.98 points. Canada’s Patrick Chan won the event with 179.75 points.
Rippon’s performance sent social media into a frenzy, as he trended to the top in the United States. One reporter mentioned to him that the public was unhappy that his score wasn’t higher.
“I can’t control the score, but to the people who were distressed, I hope maybe you can be on a judging panel someday,” Rippon joked. “I’m excited that I was able to go out there and show who I am and skate so strong, and more than that, I really hope I can help Team USA get a medal today.”
Toward the end of his performance, Rippon said he had to tell himself to keep it together.
“I was going into my last spin and I remember I looked at one of the judges and I pushed forward and I said, ‘You know, you were never known for your jumps, so you better spin the hell out of this last spin. I was so glad that I was able to have such a really great performance today.”