U.S. Skaters Star in Prime Time | Team Event Athletes, Shibs Take Home Hardware
Folks in the United States had a tough time getting to bed at a decent hour most nights in February, as live coverage of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on NBC kept them glued to their televisions until about midnight on the East Coast.
Figure skating again played out as one of the marquee events of the Games, and Team USA didn’t disappoint by delivering big-time, prime-time performances.
The excitement at Gangneung Ice Arena started immediately with the Team Event. For three days, the U.S. slugged it out with Canada, Olympic Athletes from Russia, Italy and Japan for a spot on the podium.
On the final day, with just a few points separating third through fifth places, the U.S. stepped up with outstanding performances from Adam Rippon, Mirai Nagasu and the ice dance team of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. Nagasu’s epic free skate included a history-making triple Axel and eight clean triple jumps. It was the first time a U.S. lady had landed the extremely difficult jump at the Olympics.
Team USA’s balanced performance led to it winning the bronze medal; in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, the United States captured the bronze medal in the inaugural Team Event.
Jenny Mast enjoyed a front row seat, watching Team USA get the job done in PyeongChang.
“The emotions were so different,” said Mast, who with Tina Lundgren, served as team managers. “Some were just ecstatic, thrilled and energized like they had just won the lottery. Others were internally processing … wow… what just happened to me? But all shared something in common: gratitude for the opportunity to compete in the Team Event, and to each other. Very special indeed.”
The lone U.S. pairs team of Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim turned right around and competed in the individual pairs event. The highlight for them came at the start of their free skate when they became the first U.S. team to successfully execute a throw quad twist at the Olympics.
The men then took center stage, with 18-year-old medal favorite Nathan Chen getting off to a terrible start in the short program. But the two-time U.S. champion responded with a free skate that crushed the competition and quieted the critics. His teammates, Vincent Zhou, just 17, and 28-year-old Rippon, came through with two sterling programs each. Rippon’s performances on the ice helped to further pave the way for his newfound fame. He became the media darling of the Games, trending at the top of social media and appearing regularly on NBC and its family of channels.
His fame has carried on past the Games, with appearances at the Oscars with Nagasu, a spot on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and a Q&A interview in the New York Times.
The highly anticipated ice dance event featured three U.S. teams separated by less than one point in each of their last two events. At the Olympics, it was Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani who emerged with the bronze medal. It was an emotional moment for the siblings, who started to skate together as young children and gradually climbed the ranks to become Olympic medalists.
“It was heartwarming to witness their joy, gratitude and fulfillment at such an emotional moment,” Mast said. “It was so evident that it was a moment in time that they will remember and relive forever.”
The Olympics ended on a lukewarm note for the U.S. ladies, who all had their moments of skating well and of struggling with their jumps.
Read the entire Olympic Winter Games coverage in the April issue of SKATING magazine.