GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Mirai Nagasu wanted to go home. Karen Chen wanted to spend more time with her mother. And Bradie Tennell wanted something to eat.
Team USA’s three women’s figure skaters also wanted to perform better than they did in the free skate at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, but were proud that they persevered through their mistakes.
They finished ninth, 10th and 11th – the same placements as the short program, just in a different order.
Tennell leapfrogged from 11th to ninth overall, while Nagasu dropped from ninth to 10th and Chen fell from 10th to 11th even though she was 0.14 points higher than Nagasu in the free skate.
Alina Zagitova, a 15-year-old Olympic Athlete from Russia, won the event with 239.57 total points. She and Evgenia Medvedeva each scored 156.65 in the free skate, but Zagitova won the short program with a world-record score to edge her sobbing teammate by 1.31 points.
Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada was third with 231.02 points.
As their competition concluded, each of the Americans had something to tuck away in their back pocket, or in Nagasu’s case, a front pocket of her jacket where she kept her bronze medal from the team event.
“It’s been a long three weeks,” Nagasu said. “We got to walk in the opening ceremonies and then I saved the team event, with Adam (Rippon) and Maia and Alex Shibutani. We were about to lose our medal.”
With Team USA vying with Italy for the bronze last week, Nagasu earned extra points by landing the first triple axel by an American woman at the Olympic Games, garnering a season-best score. Unfortunately, Nagasu over-rotated the jump in the women’s short program, tried to save it and fell. In the free skate, she made her approach but popped the jump, scoring zero points.
“Today I put my medal in my pocket,” Nagasu said, pulling it out, “Here she is – and said, ‘Mirai, you’ve done your job already and this is all just icing.’ And it has been so emotionally draining, but this is what I wanted and I’ve been crying every day since the team event because I was so happy, but then we had to keep training and training and we’re just exhausted and it’s a lot to go out there and represent our country.
“I’m proud of what I did here and maybe it won’t be enough for another person, or maybe someone else could have done a better job, but I didn’t back down and although I got zero points for my attempt at the triple axel, in my mind I went for it.”
Vying For The Mirror Ball Trophy?
Nagasu, who was fourth at the 2010 Games as a 16-year-old, also went for a smile in the middle of her dramatic “Miss Saigon” performance.
“That’s really rare for me,” she said. “So enjoyed myself and I thought of this as my audition for ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”
Nagasu also popped a planned triple lutz which was going to be in combination, but added a combination later and scored 119.75 points, well off her season best of 137.53 from the team event, and a total of 186.54 points.
She looked relieved as she finished the program, skating exhaustedly across the ice, bending over and with her arms flopping like a rag doll.
“When I didn’t land my triple axel in the short, my mom told me, ‘Who cares if you get last place?’ This is the Olympics. Making it is the hard part.’”
But Nagasu also found that there are parts of the Olympic Games that feel like a splash of cold water to the face.
“I haven’t taken a warm shower,” Nagasu said, “because there are lot of people on Team USA and I keep trying to take a shower and all the hot water is gone. I’ve also woken up so early but at the same time, I wanted this. I wanted to be here and I’m so happy.”
Yet she bluntly told one interviewer after her performance, “I’m ready to go home.”
Nagasu softened that sentiment a few minutes later.
“I can’t wait to go home and put my medal around the kids’ necks,” she said, “and tell them they can do it, too, if they persevere. I hope there are better, brighter things to come. I hope I get more opportunities to let my personality shine.”
Chen, the 2017 national champion who was fourth at last year’s world championships, was the only U.S. woman who did not smile when she finished her program.
“For sure I am extremely disappointed,” said Chen, who skated to “Tango Jalousie.” “I’m not going to lie. I know I trained myself to skate better than that and not being able to deliver is a huge letdown for myself and everyone who supported me.”
Chen said she was bothered by boot problems which worked their way into doubt. She explained that the boot split and moisture had caused the blade to sink into her skate and affect the mounting. Still, they were comfortable and Chen decided they were a better option than her old boots.
“It’s no excuse,” she said. “I felt like I should have skated better and I could have focused better.”
But she was encouraged by her response to the adversity.
“I felt like I did attack and I didn’t hold back,” she said. “and I skated without fear, but mistakes happened that shouldn’t have happened and I could have dealt with better.”
Chen hung onto her opening triple lutz, but was out of position to do her planned triple toe for a combination. She then fell on her triple loop and stepped out on her triple salchow.
But while her boots were falling apart, Chen tried not to, adding a double to another triple for a combination. She wound up with 119.75 points, more than three points off her season best of 123.27, for a total of 185.65 points.
New Experiences At Olympics
“When I first came here I didn’t know what to expect,” said Chen, a first-time Olympian at age 18. “I knew it was going to be big, it was going to be grand, but that’s about it, I didn’t know what the media was going to be like, I didn’t know what the ice was going to be like.
“I didn’t have an idea what the village was going to be like, so it was all so brand new and so different and the biggest change for me was not being able to see my mom 24/7 and for me that was something that I really missed.”
Chen said she and her mother tried to call and FaceTime each other as much as possible. Before her warmup, Chen ran into the stands to give her mother a quick hug, “but for sure, I definitely missed her.”
For Tennell, who also has a bronze medal from the team event, the clock struck 12 on her “Cinderella” program.
She didn’t fall like she did in the short program, but she stepped out of the landing on two jumps.
“Today was OK,” Tennell said. “Obviously it wasn’t the way I wanted to skate. It wasn’t that perfect Olympic program, but I’m really happy for getting out there and holding myself together.
“Right now I’m pretty hungry and really tired. But I’m very proud of myself.”
She scored 128.34 points to also place ninth in the free skate and finished with a total of 192.35 points.
“I know I messed up on the lutz,” Tennell said of one of her step-outs, “but I’m very proud of myself for the way I came back with the combo on the loop. And I finished strong and I’m proud of that.”
Tennell agreed with Nagasu that it was exhausting having to compete in the team event so early, and then having to wait almost two weeks for the individual competition.
“It was very, very mentally and physically trying,” Tennell, 20, said. “Seeing all these other athletes finish their events and be able to let loose a little bit and then us having to stay focused, it was definitely a challenge.”
The same three U.S. women have been selected to compete next month at the world championshps in Milan, and Tennell plans to continue skating beyond that.
“I’m sticking around,” she said, “and I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can to bring us up in the rankings.”