“Dancing with the Stars: Athletes” has been eliminating contestants at record pace all season and the third week was guaranteed to be a bittersweet one for Team USA fans with half the six-couple field being eliminated at the end of the night, and five of those six consisting of U.S. Olympians.
On a night where each athlete dedicated their individual dance to the MVP – Most Valuable Person – in their life, Olympic figure skating bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu kicked things off by performing a quickstep to “BO$$” by Fifth Harmony, which she dedicated to her mother, Ikuko, who emigrated from Japan and, according to Nagasu, helped make her a boss.
Nagasu and partner Alan Bersten earned a 35 (9, 9, 8, 9), with Ikiko in tears in the audience.
Jennie Finch-Daigle, a two-time Olympic medalist and perhaps the world’s best known softball pitcher, danced a Viennese waltz for her husband Casey. The former MLB player said of his wife in her pre-performance package, “Sometimes I think she’s part angel.”
Finch-Daigle and Keo Motsepe received a 29 (7, 8, 7, 7) for the lowest score of the night, though judge Carrie Ann Inaba did say, “You embody what the spirit of the show is about… you expressed true joy.”
The first American to win an Olympic medal in men’s singles luge – Chris Mazdzer – chose his mother, Marty Lawthers, as his MVP. Lawthers also happens to a super-fan of “Dancing with the Stars” and had a longtime dream of hers come true when she joined Mazdzer and partner Witney Carson for the end of their foxtrot.
They received a 33 (8, 9, 7, 9), which included Inaba dinging them a point for performing an illegal lift that occurred after Mazdzer caught Carson’s jump off a piano, to which guest judge and MLB player David Ross replied, “Coming from a baseball player, great catch.”
Two-time Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding continued her emotional return to the public eye, dancing a rumba dedicated to her father Albert, who passed away nine years ago. Performing to the song “See You Again,” Harding and Sasha Farber also scored a 33 (8, 9, 8, 8).
Adam Rippon, who along with Nagasu won Olympic bronze in the team event earlier this year, performed an emotional contemporary dance to Coldplay’s “O,” which was also Rippon’s free skate music for two seasons, including at the Games. Rippon paid tribute to his mom, Kelly, who as a single mother raised Adam and his five younger siblings.
In tears after his own performance, Rippon scored a near-perfect 39 (10, 10, 9, 10) and was the only dancer to receive a 10 two weeks in a row and to receive more than one 10 in the season to date.
NFL cornerback Josh Norman ended the individual dances with his and Sharna Burgess’ contemporary, which earned the second-highest score of the night, 36 (9, 9, 9, 9).
Then, with two additional points at stake to the winning couples, the teams battled one another, performing a specific type of dance simultaneously against another couple.
Naturally, best friends and Olympic figure skating teammates Nagasu (with Bersten) and Rippon (with Johnson) were pitted against each other, and reappearing on the show to mentor them for their jive was Meryl Davis, who won Olympic ice dance gold in 2014 before winning season 18 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
Davis also performed with Bersten and Johnson earlier in the show.
Nagasu and Rippon each received two judges’ votes, with Rippon edging Nagasu out thanks to the fan vote (64 percent to Rippon).
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In the other Olympian matchup, Finch-Daigle and Harding went head-to-head in a cha-cha-cha after being mentored by five-time Olympic gymnastics medalist Nastia Liukin, who placed fourth on season 20 of the show. Liukin also danced with Farber and Motsepe earlier in the show.
Harding earned the two extra points after receiving three judges’ votes. Finch-Daigle was chosen by Ross as well as by the fans (60 percent).
Norman came out on top in his salsa battle with Mazdzer – after they were mentored by linebacker Von Miller – receiving three judges’ votes, though Mazdzer did take the fan vote at 55 percent and was Inaba’s selection.
Once the battle points were added to the couples’ individual scores, the leaderboard had Rippon at the top (41), followed by Norman (38), Nagasu and Harding tied for third (35), followed by Mazdzer at 33 and Finch-Daigle at 29.
With fan votes accounted for, the three couples eliminated were Finch-Daigle, Mazdzer and Nagasu, while figure skaters Harding and Rippon will face each other – and Norman – in next week’s season finale for the mirror ball trophy.