A Heroic Mirai Nagasu Makes History but Team USA Finishes 3rd

The great thing about sports as opposed to any other form of entertainment is that any time you turn on the TV, you could see history being made. Just off the top of my head, in no particular order, I’ve witnessed Tiger win the U.S. Open by 15 strokes. Saw Nolan Ryan’s 7th no-hitter. Secretariat lap the field at the Belmont by 31 lengths. Jon Valentin pull off an unassisted triple play, then lead off the bottom of the inning with a home run on the first pitch, the best you could possibly do with consecutive pitches. Bill Mueller hit grand slams from both sides of the plate. I’ve seen guys have five goal nights. Four times I’ve seen pitchers strike out 20 in a single game.

The point being that on any given day as a sports fan, you might see something that will forever have you saying “I’ll never forget where I was when I saw that happen.” Last night in PyeongChang was just such a night.

Mirai Nagasu, that 24-year-old spitfire from Arcadia, California, took center ice with the eyes of the world upon her and did nothing less than make history. In the white hot spotlight of the Olympic team skating competition, she took Fear in her slender hands, grabbed it by the throat and slammed it to the ice. With the pressure of her country’s medal hopes on her perfectly positioned shoulders, she landed the first triple axel ever completed in Ladies Olympic history.

It was a triumph. For those few minutes, Mirai embodied the noblest warrior spirit. Doing the impossible. She was Bob Beamon in ’68, setting a long jump record that wouldn’t be broken for decades. She was Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100. She was Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile to the strains of “Miss Saigon.” And the name Nagasu will forever be etched in the record books.

I suppose the cynics among us will say Mirai was more like Tom Brady in the Super Bowl in that her historic performance didn’t win her team the gold. And you’d be right, to a point. Even her Earth-shattering triple axel only got Team USA a bronze. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even win the Ladies Free Skate. To Mirai’s own misfortune, her moment was overshadowed by a performance for the ages by Russia’s Olympic Athletes from Russia’s Alina Zagitova. Who wasn’t just better than Nagasu on this night, she was transcendent:

Putting all her jumps in the second half of her program for the 10 percent bonus points, the 15-year-old was nothing short of flawless. As Johnny Weir pointed out, that’s the equivalent of running a marathon and then afterwards running a bunch of 50-yard dashes. But she landed all of them to perfection. Including triple-triple combinations, jumping with her arms extended over her head making it even more difficult, and actually timing her jumps in sync with her “Don Quixote” music. Her technical score was the highest recorded under the current system, good for a 158.00 total to Nagasu’s 137.53. In skating terms, she was Drago to Mirai’s Apollo Creed.

As far as the Mens, I’m as tempted as anyone to say “Adam Rippon? More like Adam ripped off.” And yes, I think he deserved second place instead of third. But while Johnny expressed it perfectly for me when he said Adam’s performance had him “quaking,” without having a quad in his program, I just don’t see how first place is realistic. Not in this day and age. Not when superhuman athletes like Canada’s Patrick Chan are making quads look effortless and even Rippon’s roommate Nagasu is landing triple axels. Still, when he told the story about he and Mirai sitting on the roof of their house eating In & Out burgers four years ago during Sochi dreaming of PyeonChang, it’s impossible not to root for these two.

So the long and short of it is, the Canadians won going away. The Russians OARs took silver and between Alina Zagitova and the best in the world Evgenia Medvedeva, they look poised to run away with the Ladies competition. And bronze medal Team USA is going to need to do a lot better to reach the podium in any of the individual/pairs events. But when you’ve already made history, I guess anything is possible.

@jerrythornton1