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Figure Skating Legends React to Mirai Nagasu's Historic Olympic Triple Axel: 'What a Triumph'

U.S. figure skater Mirai Nagasu made history Monday morning in Korea when she became the very first American female to land a triple axel at the Olympics.

The stunning feat was quickly celebrated on Twitter by numerous legends in the skating world, several of whom said they were moved to tears over the accomplishment.

“That was a sloppy cry kind of skate,” tweeted ice dancing legend Meryl Davis, who won gold at the 2014 Olympics with partner Charlie White, and silver at the 2010 Games.

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Kristi Yamaguchi, who took home a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics, also tweeted that she was crying “tears of joy” for Nagasu over the successful jump.

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Scott Hamilton, who took home gold in the 1984 Olympics, tweeted that he was “thrilled” for Nagasu, noting that “great things happen to good people.”

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Ashley Wagner, who narrowly missed her chance to compete at the 2018 Olympics after she was named first alternate last month, also tweeted kudos to her friend and competitor.

“So proud of this girl, such an inspiration with what she has done to her career.”

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Sarah Hughes, who took home gold in 2002, expressed her excitement through emojis — specifically three biceps — to show the importance of the moment.

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Keep Following PEOPLE’s Complete Coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Nagasu completed the triple axel at the start of her free skate in the figure skating team event on Monday morning (Sunday evening stateside), which set herself apart from the competition: None of the other women even planned to attempt the triple axel, which requires a forward takeoff and three-and-a-half rotations in the air.

People’s special issue The Best of Olympic Figure Skating is available now in the Time Inc. store, on Amazon, and wherever magazines are sold.

Only two other U.S. female figure skaters have pulled off a triple axel in competition: First was Tonya Harding, during the national championship in 1991, followed by Kimmie Meissner in 2005.

After making history in Korea, Nagasu told PEOPLE “It’s a lot of pressure and stress to come out here — and it was my goal and my 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, and so as athletes we want to represent our country to the best of our ability and you know — Midori Ito, Mao Asada and now Mirai Nagasu, all of Japanese heritage.

“But I’m very fortunate that I’m American and so I’ll be the first U.S. lady to have landed the triple axel,” she continued. “And so today is a day of accomplishment for me.”

with reporting by ADAM CARLSON

 

Team USA Repeats at the Podium in Team Figure Skating After an Historic Triple Axel

The Americans earned a bronze medal on Monday afternoon in the team figure skating event at the 2018 Winter Olympics after a series of strong performances that nonetheless saw surprising lows and thrilling highs.

The top three finishers in the team event — whose scores are determined by the cumulative short and long routines from the ice dancers and single and pair skaters — were determined following the free dance portion, which saw the second of two performances so far from siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani.

The “Shib sibs” earned second in their free dance, ensuring Team USA’s third-place finish, behind Canada (gold) and the Olympic athletes from Russia, who got silver. This is the second time the U.S. has earned bronze in the team event, which was introduced in 2014.

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American highlights throughout the event’s three days of competition, which began Thursday in Gangneung, South Korea, included season-best numbers for pair skaters (and married couple) Alexa and Chris Knierim and 20-year-old Bradie Tennell as well as consistent results from the Shibutanis, who earned second place in both of their routines.

Such strength followed a jarringly inconsistent opener, on Thursday, when 18-year-old national champion Nathan Chen fell during his short program and completed only one of his two planned quadruple jumps, earning fourth out of 10.

Still, the Americans rebounded and the pinnacle of their event came earlier Monday when Mirai Nagasu, 24, made history as the first female U.S. skater to land the notoriously tricky triple axel at the Olympics.

Figure skating will continue on Wednesday morning (Tuesday night in the U.S.), with the pairs’ short program.

The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.

All About 'Feisty' Figure Skater Mirai Nagasu, Who Aims to Land a Triple Axel at the Olympics

In 2014 at the U.S. National Championships, Mirai Nagasu landed six triple jumps in a clean long program that one of the commentators called “the best we’ve seen Mirai skate in a long time.” She skated off the ice, a smile on her face and her eyes glassy with tears, seemingly thinking one thing: She was heading back to the Olympics.

She ended up taking home the bronze medal, coming behind skaters Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds and ahead of Ashley Wagner. With the National Championships serving as the de facto Olympic Trials for the Sochi Olympics, the assumption was that the top three at Nationals would go on to make up the United States’s ladies singles team in Russia. (After Nagasu’s scores were announced, one of the commentators even said she was “likely to return to the Olympics.”)

But a day later, when the names were announced, Mirai’s wasn’t included — and Wagner’s was. This came despite the fact that she finished after Nagasu and she fell twice during the competition. But the top three at Nationals were not the be all, end all when it came to selecting the Olympic team, and U.S. Figure Skating president Patricia St. Peter said that they considered a skater’s body of work throughout the season, rather than just her performance at Nationals. Wagner, they said, had “top credentials.”

And so Nagasu was left in the alternate spot, a decision that momentarily had her thinking about quitting the sport, she told NBC Olympics. But even in the weeks after the shocking announcement, she said in a Facebook post she knew that she wouldn’t let this setback defeat her or extinguish her dream.

Keep Following PEOPLE’s Complete Coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics

“Once I have time to fully process the impact of these decisions, I do know it will renew a fire inside of me,” she writes. “My Olympic journey does not end here. I will continue to work hard, to train and grow and improve as a skater and realize my dream of once again representing the United States at an Olympic Games.”

Nagasu had been a force in skating since she was a young teenager, winning the 2008 U.S. National Championship when she was 14 years old. She went on to compete at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, narrowly missing the podium when she landed in fourth place. 

So when Nagasu took the ice at the 2018 National Championships, she was skating for more than just a medal or a shot at the Olympics: It was her chance to redeem herself.

“I’m hungrier than ever,” she told PEOPLE prior to leaving for Pyeongchang.

And she did just that, nabbing the silver medal and securing her spot on the team. When she made that triumphant silver place finish at this year’s Nationals, the crowd was cheering for her. She burst into tears when she received her scores and realized that she’d be placing in the top three of the night, likely to actually return to the Olympics for real this time.

Wagner once again came in fourth and was named as the team’s alternate. She recently praised Nagasu during a recent appeared on PEOPLE Now.

“That girl, I’ve been with her since 2010 and she is feisty, feisty, feisty,” Wagner said.

Today, Nagasu says that she understands the decision made back in 2014.

“I felt so disappointed in myself and I had so much regret,” Nagasu said. “I did finish in third place, but I was a little bit careless over the season, and I didn’t put out the body of work that I needed.”

And in the end, it pushed her in a new direction, one that eventually led her to PyeongChang. Her coach, Tom Zakrajsek, who she started working with in Colorado Springs a few months after the 2014 Nationals, says that she didn’t hold any bitterness over what happened. Instead, she just looked forward and started working hard.

“Most people have a hardship in their life and they blame and they point fingers, and they say I was screwed over,” Zakrajsek said. “Mirai could have said that, right? And she could have been bitter. I’ve never heard her say that. And to hear that maturity in her — even in this moment, she’s just owning it.”

It wasn’t always easy: In 2015, she finished in tenth place at the National Championships, her lowest ever place at the event. She competed at just one World Championships from 2014 to now, and only because Polina Edmunds had to withdraw.

“I think as a skater I started out really strongly,” Nagasu said of her skating career, “and as I have grown in the public eye I have had my rough seasons that most people don’t get as much attention for.”

However, with the rougher patches came some serious growth — including a place in the skating history books. At the 2017 CS U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, she landed two triple axel jumps, making her the first American woman to do so in international competition since Tonya Harding in 1991. (Skater Kimmie Meissner also landed the difficult jump during a national competition in 2005.)

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She tried one of those triple axels in competition at this year’s nationals, and though she didn’t execute a completely clean landing, simply including it in competition is practically unheard of — and something none of her competitors are doing.

“It’s all about the points in figure skating, and how you can outrank your opponents. And the triple is almost twice the points as a double,” she tells PEOPLE of the notoriously difficult jump. “It’s kind of like a board game, and that’s my king. So I want to use it as many times as I can.”

When Nagasu steps onto the ice in PyeongChang, she’ll have the memories of Vancouver with her — and her family and friends in the audience after the Pasadena Figure Skating Club started a fundraiser to help get Nagasu’s family and boyfriend to PyeongChang to watch her compete.

And on the ice, she hopes to channel the mentality that helped her reach the heights she hit early in her career.

“I’ve always been a hard worker, and I’ve always had drive, even as a 14-year-old,” she told U.S. Figure Skating. “I had no expectations for myself and I think that’s why I skated so freely. I had no clue what pressure was. I’m working towards being able to skate like that still.”

Figure Skater Adam Rippon Jokes About His Teeth Bleaching Ahead of Olympic Debut

When figure skater Adam Rippon competes in his first Winter Olympics on Monday in South Korea, the smile he flashes may look a little shinier than normal — with good reason.

“I’ve been bleaching my teeth for the past few days and now the wind that I create from just talking makes them hurt,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Like, I think this is a sign that I’m officially ready for my Olympic debut.”

Rippon, 28, is the first openly gay athlete to qualify for Team USA in a Winter Games. He is also something of a noted Twitter aficionado, mixing on his timeline jokes, gratitude, shade and shout-outs to the celebrities for whom he has become a breakout star.

Sharing a recent piece about him in GQhe wrote of one of the photos accompanying the article: “I’m sitting in a Kohl’s parking lot bush. With the lights from the Taco Bell next door twinkling in my eye, Ryan Pfluger has never made me feel more beautiful.”

In an interview with the magazine, he said, “I’m proud of a lot of things I’ve said on Twitter.”

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Rippon, a former national champion, will compete in the men’s free skate during the figure skating team competition Monday. Joining him from Team USA will be Mirai Nagasu and ice dancing siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani.

While he was briefly involved in a dispute with Vice President Mike Pence, Rippon has said in recent days he is focused on competing, and he appears to be soaking up the pageantry and goodwill of the Games.

Walking during the opening ceremony, he shared a photo with freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, another openly gay athlete. (Kenworthy previously told PEOPLE he and Rippon were “excited to hang out and kiki in Korea.”)

Keep Following PEOPLE’s Complete Coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Not long after the Olympics opened, Rippon wrote — on Twitter, of course — that “tonight I walked in the #OpeningCeremony and got to watch my old friend @Yunaaaa light the Olympic flame.”

“Representing the USA is one of the greatest honors of my life,” he continued, “and being able to do it as my authentic self makes it all so much sweeter.”

The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.

Unknown a Year Ago, Figure Skater Bradie Tennell Makes Her Olympic Debut — and Earns a Season-Best

Bradie Tennell just — does — not — fall.

And she didn’t fall this time either: the 20-year-old made her Olympic debut on Sunday morning in the figure skating team event at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. (Just as she began, a small child was heard chanting “USA, USA, USA.”)

Skating third in the ladies’ short program at the Gangneung Ice Arena, Tennell quickly leapt to the top of the leaderboard with as technically confident a skate as she has given all season.

“I’m really happy,” she told reporters, all smiles, after competing. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better first program at the Olympics.”

Tennell’s total score of 68.94 was her best all year and kept her in the No. 1 spot for much of the competition, until a succession of skaters from Canada, Italy, Japan and Russia bumped her to fifth — but still good enough to keep the U.S. in third overall at the team event as they head into the second half.

She was hamstrung by the component score of her program, which measures skating ability, performance and interpretation, among other elements. But her technical score alone — that is, how she executed elements of her short program such as her jumps — was the second best of the group, behind only Russia.

Asked what she was thinking just before she began to skate, she tells PEOPLE: “‘You’ve done this program a million times, it’s just a million and one.’ ”

Ever focused and succinct, she says there was no thought to how she might juice up the artistic parts of her program: “No, you know here when I’m competing, I just go on autopilot. I compete like I train.”

“I get butterflies right before my music starts, but then when my music starts I kind of go on autopilot and just lose myself,” she told reporters, noting that it “felt like I was doing another program at a practice session.” (Beforehand, Tennell was seen listening to what she later explained was a mix of ’80s rock songs — some of her favorites — such as AC/DC and Boston.)

Tennell’s mother, Jean Tennell, watched her from the arena seating though they had not yet met up when Bradie spoke with reporters after her skate. “But I know she’s here supporting me,” Bradie said.

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Essentially an unknown to the broader public a year ago, Bradie, a native of the Chicago area, made her first big splash in the sport with a third-place finish at Skate America in November. She followed that up in January with a first-place victory at the national skating championships, making her one of Team USA’s best shots at a medal in figure skating this year.

“I was injured the past two years, so it really took a toll on my skating and my consistency,” she said on Sunday, adding, “Now being healthy this entire year has really made a huge difference.”

Mom Jean, a nurse, was crucial as she healed, Bradie said: “When I was down, she was there to pick me up, and her support really got me through that.”

Did Bradie ever doubt, amidst her injury, that she would see success?

“No. Never.”

What's the Difference Between Ice Dancing and Figure Skating? Olympian Evan Bates Explains

The Winter Olympics are here and buzz surrounding the worldwide competition is heating up.

For many fans, figure skating events are an Olympic highlight, but every four years many people seem to have the same question: What’s the difference between figure skating and ice dancing?

The short answer is that ice dancing falls under the broader umbrella category of figure skating.

Leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics, PEOPLE sat down with 2018 Olympic ice dancer Evan Bates, whose partner is Madison Chock, to clarify some of the differences between figure skating and ice dancing.

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“Ice dancing has more restrictions,” Evan Bates explained to PEOPLE. “We can only do lifts that are below the head so I can’t raise my hands above my head, which is a really easy distinction when you’re trying to differentiate between pairs and ice dancing.”

According to Shape.com, ice dancing places more importance on having a graceful and entertaining routine compared to figure skating, which focuses more on jumps, lifts and spins. Figure skaters are scored based on connecting their footwork for all of their various moves, but ice dancers are evaluated by the precision of their moves.

RELATED VIDEO: Olympic Hopeful Figure Skaters Show You How to End a ‘Perfect Performance’ in 5 Steps

“We’re really more like ballroom dancers,” Bates explained. “We’re interpreting music, putting a lot of emphasis on the connection between the couple and on the connection to the music.”

Ice dancers work together in pairs to complete their routine, and the music that they dance to must have a steady rhythm for skating.

San Diego Ice Arena coach and former ice dancer Justin Ross told NBC San Diego that while pairs figure skating is recognized by its throws and jumps, ice dancing pairs are scored more on how they move together as one. For example, if one dancer moves or spins at a slightly different pace than their partner, it could mean huge point deductions.

Ross continued to explain that pairs figure skating is all about the heavy lifting and jumps, placing an emphasis on over-the-head lifts, triple jumps and throws — all things you won’t see in an ice dancing routine.

The 2018 Winter Olympics will air live starting Feb. 8. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.

Everything You Need to Know About Olympics-Bound Figure Skater Bradie Tennell

Since the start of her career, 19-year-old Bradie Tennell has flown under the radar in the figure skating scene. But with a trail of high-scoring programs, the teen has snagged a spot on the Winter Olympics figure skating team.

Officials with the U.S. Figure Skating international committee announced on Saturday that Tennell has been placed on the 2018 Olympic team and will compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea, alongside several American skaters including Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen.

Although she is an Olympics newbie, Tennell’s placement was no surprise after she dominated the women’s short program 2018 U.S. figure skating national championships, coming in first place with 73.79 points.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Illinois native:

She’s Been Winning Big for Months

In November, Tennell won a bronze medal in her grand prix debut at the 2017 Bridgestone Skate America competition, becoming the first U.S. woman since Caroline Zhang 2007 to accomplish such a feat. She was the only U.S. woman to medal at the event.

Tennell says she was just as “surprised” by her win as everyone else.

“It was kind of crazy. It was a lot of fun,” she tells PEOPLE of the experience. “It was definitely unexpected, but I just had a good time.”

 

She’s Already Getting Kudos from the Greats

After Tennell’s display on Wednesday, 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski predicted that the team would make the Olympic team.

“When I watched her skate in comparison to the rest of group she had not only a very consistent technical arsenal and she never misses, that mentally she has blinders on, and that’s very difficult as a competitor to do,” Lipinski said of Tennell, according to the Los Angeles Times.

 

She Has No Clue How She Got Into Figure Skating

Tennell tells PEOPLE that she’s loved to skate since she was about 2 years old growing up in Carpentersville, but has no idea what sparked the interest.

RELATED PHOTOS: The Biggest Figure Skating Moments in Olympics History

“I don’t even know how I figured out what skating was,” she says. “My parents were in between houses at the time and I just kept begging my mom to go ice skating. She looked it up in the yellow pages, for the closest rink. And she took me to go skating.”

She Likes to Live for Now

Although she’s been skating for most of her life, Tennell says she doesn’t focus much on making career plans for the future.

“I like to live in the moment and take things one thing at a time,” she tells PEOPLE.

The Winter Olympics will take place from Feb. 9 through Feb. 25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and coverage will air in the U.S. on NBC.

This South Korean Figure Skater Lit The Olympic Cauldron While Wearing Skates And Now Everyone Loves Her

All hail Queen Yuna.

The 2018 Winter Olympics kicked off tonight in Pyeongchang, South Korea, with people trying to guess who would be lighting the cauldron with the Olympic flame.

The 2018 Winter Olympics kicked off tonight in Pyeongchang, South Korea, with people trying to guess who would be lighting the cauldron with the Olympic flame.

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It turned out they were right!

It turned out they were right!

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Kim — who retired from professional figure skating after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — appeared on an ice rink at the top of the stadium in her skates.

Kim — who retired from professional figure skating after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — appeared on an ice rink at the top of the stadium in her skates.

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She performed a routine before proceeding to light the cauldron with the Olympic flame.

She performed a routine before proceeding to light the cauldron with the Olympic flame.

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All while in her skates.

All while in her skates.

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It was stunning.

It was stunning.

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For more Pyeongchang Winter Olympics content, click here!

For more Pyeongchang Winter Olympics content, click here!

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Antonio Conte - Roman AbramovichAntonio Conte pictured leaving Cobham training ground. Italian is under pressure after recent poor results. Roman Abramovich has unforgiving reputation. READ MORE: Revealed: Four players Conte wanted Chelsea to sign. It’s all eyes on Antonio Conte at the minute as the pressure continues to mount on the Italian. Premier League champions Chelsea have won just […]