GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Mirai Nagasu recalled the sage words of Sasha Cohen, the last Team USA woman to win an Olympic women’s figure skating medal, a few days before competition began with the short program:
“You can’t win with a short,” Nagasu quoted Cohen, the silver medalist in 2006, “but you can definitely lose with one.”
The three U.S. women competing at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 made mistakes on the first elements in their short programs Wednesday to all but take themselves out of medal contention at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Nagasu is in ninth place, immediately followed by Karen Chen in 10th and Bradie Tennell in 11th.
“It’s kind of funny, but kind of sad,” Chen said of all three missing their first elements. “I wish we all nailed it, but I think that’s just part of the nerves getting to us.”
Alina Zagitova, an Olympic Athlete from Russia, scored a new world record of 82.92 points, eclipsing countrywoman Evgenia Medvedeva, who had just posted a score of 81.61.
Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel in Olympic competition to to win a bronze medal in the team event, over-rotated the jump Wednesday. She stepped out, seemed to save it, and then fell.
“There’s just something about adrenaline and nerves,” Nagasu said, “and sometimes I just over-jump it. I wish I could land it perfectly every time, but it’s still a new jump and even the best skaters make mistakes, and I like to think of myself as one of the best though I just made a little mistake.”
She added that she’s the only woman attempting the triple axel at the Olympic Games, which should put its difficulty in perspective.
Why is Nagasu the only one? “Because no one else can do it,” she said.
Her coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said Nagasu set the triple axel up really well, but had “hesitation from the back outside edge to the initiation of the jump and that is a big no-no on an axel. She launched it, she got all the way around, she landed it and was trying to stay on one foot and knocked herself down, so it was a weird kind of fall.”
The rest of Nagasu’s program was exquisite and she finished with an international season’s best of 66.93 points. Her previous best was 65.17. Had she not fallen on the triple axel, she would have earned another four points, enough to put her in the low 70s and in the top seven.
“Yes, I’m mad, and yes, I’m upset, but I made it here and that’s the hard part,” said Nagasu.
“I guess I’m glad I delivered when it counted in the team event.”
Nagasu was fourth at the Vancouver Games eight years ago when she was only 16 years old.
“The most important thing for me was that I put it all out there,” Nagasu said, “and I went for every single jump and I didn’t pop anything, and in that sense, I’m happy to be exhausted.”
Chen, the 2017 national champion who was fourth at last year’s world championships, put a hand down on her first element, a triple lutz, which was intended to be a combination with a triple toe loop.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty disappointed,” said Chen, a protégé of 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi. “I felt overall fine, but I think just that tiny bit of tenseness in my body, and just anticipating and just a slight hesitation was enough to make me land too far forward and not be able to do the combo.”
She improvised and did a combination with her next triple instead and scored 65.90 points, shy of her season best of 66.18.
“I kept it together,” Chen said. “I didn’t let that silly mistake bother me mentally or physically and I just kind of made sure I held my spins, stayed focused to do my footwork and I made sure I put on a double toe after the triple loop, so I was really proud of myself to not let that affect me and just keep going.”
Tennell, the reigning U.S. champion who is also competing in her first Games, picked a bad time to fall in competition for the first time this season. She fell on a triple toe loop, the second jump in her triple/triple combination after feeling a “little off” coming out of her triple lutz.
“It’s a setback, but it’s important to not dwell on things like that and I’m just looking forward to the free skate,” Tennell said.
Tennell skated first among all 30 skaters due to her relatively low ranking in the world standings and the luck – or bad luck – of the draw.
Although the 20-year-old skated to music from a Korean film, she didn’t engage the audience as she would have liked because Gangneung Ice Arena had a lot of empty seats due to late-arriving spectators.
“Going first in the entire group is not ideal,” Tennell said, “but it’s just another challenge that you have to get through. The energy is a little bit more dead. Nobody likes to be the first one out there, right?”
In her first senior season in which she was not injured, Tennell didn’t fall in the short program or free skate at the Lombardia Trophy, Skate America, the national championships and through the short program in the team event, in which she scored a season’s best of 68.94 points.
But the fall Wednesday cost Tennell dearly. She scored only 64.01 points.
“My timing was just a little off and my left arm got a little away from me, so I wasn’t able to get the snap,” she said. “Things happen. We’re all human, we make mistakes, so you’ve just got to get up and keep going.”
She said her expectations for her first Olympic Winter Games was “just going out there and having clean skates and proving that I belong here.”
The free skate will be Friday.
For live video and highlights, head to the networks of NBC and NBCOlympics.com.