Nagasu And Rippon Wow Crowd As U.S. Figure Skating Team Wins Bronze

Feb 12, 2018
Originally published on February 12, 2018 3:14 pm

U.S. figure skaters won the bronze medal in the team event on Monday, in an action-packed tournament that saw Mirai Nagasu land a historic jump – and in which Adam Rippon and other Americans showed they're in fine form at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

"This is literally a dream come true for all of us," Nagasu said, in comments transcribed by the Olympics news service. "I think I speak on behalf of the team. We're super excited and we're at a loss for words. I'm really proud of my team."

The final results on Monday mirrored the tally from the qualifying rounds one day before: Canada took gold, followed by the Russians and the U.S. team. But in figure skating, a sport in which artistry mixes with strength and technique in unique and unpredictable ways, the old saying rings true: It's about the journey.

Nagasu became the first U.S. woman to land a triple axel in Olympic competition, in a powerful performance that brought a score of 137.53 points — a new personal best, according to the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Her jump was eye-popping — "Holy Cow!" NBC said; "SHE DID IT. HISTORY MADE," the U.S. Figure Skating Association said — but the style and flow of her skate also offered a stark contrast to the highest score (158.08) from the Russian skater Alina Zagitova, who loaded the back half of her program with jumps. The tactic plays to the sport's judging; it prompted much debate.

Nagasu's rousing skate solidified her team's claim for a medal — and she even included a yell out on the ice, something her teammates echoed as they looked on. Her history-making skate followed Adam Rippon's focused and artful performance.

Rippon dazzled the crowd at the Gangneung Ice Arena; after his skate was over, he clapped his hands to his face as if to take in a special moment. It was the only hint that he had felt the intense pressure to deliver for his team and his country on an Olympic stage.

"These kids inspire me so much," Rippon said afterward. "It's such an honor and such a privilege to be with them and to share an Olympic podium with them."

After Rippon and Nagasu, only the free dance program remained. In that final phase, it was up to the Shibutani siblings — Maia and Alex — to maintain a comfortable buffer over Italy. Their task was eased by the performances of the Russian skaters, who outscored the Italians. That's because in the team skating format, the 1-5 finishers are assigned points from 10-6 (a skater's No. 1 finish nets 10 points for his or her team, and so on).

"We had a great joint effort," team co-captain Alexa Scimeca Knierim said. "Before the Shibutanis took their starting pose, they looked over at our box and gave us a nod to let us know they were going to do their best for us. We're a very close group, all cheering one another on."

The Shibutanis could have coasted through their program and started the celebration. Instead, they put an exclamation point on a team win, finishing second to the dominant Canadian team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

"It was a really special feeling today waking up from my nap and seeing that Adam had really thrown it down, and then we we started warming up [and] seeing Mirai nail that triple axel was just an amazing thing," said Alex Shibutani, the other co-captain.

"A lot of us had been feeling speechless," Scimeca Knierim said. "It's hard to really explain the honor it is to have an Olympic medal. It's something we have forever. It's a blessing, and I could not have thought of a better team to share it with because we have all had our own journeys to get here."

For the record, the U.S. team is Nagasu, Rippon, Scimeca Knierim and the Shibutanis, in addition to Nathan Chen, Chris Knierim and Bradie Tennell.

In another notable result from the team competition, the Olympic Athletes from Russia team, as it's called under an anti-doping punishment, now has its first silver medal of these games.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.