Figure skating’s triple Axel: What it is and why it’s important
The Axel is the only forward-facing jump in figure skating and is the most difficult of the six jumps being done today.
It was named for its creator, Axel Paulson, who invented the jump in 1882. For a single Axel, the way Paulson did it, a skater takes off from a forward outside edge and rotates one-and-a-half times in the air before landing on the back outside edge on the opposite foot from which they took off.
A double Axel requires two-and-a-half rotations in the air, and a triple Axel three-and-a-half rotations in the air. The base value of the triple Axel is 8.5 points, while a double Axel is worth significantly less at 3.3 points. Nobody has attempted the quad Axel, which would require four-and-a-half rotations.
The Axel is a required element for ladies skating in both the short program and the free skate; almost everyone does a double. But 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu decided to try the triple.
Nagasu has been training the much-buzzed-about jump for several years, and it made several appearances in her programs this season. At the U.S. International Classic in September, Nagasu became the third-ever American woman to land the jump in competition (the others are Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner).
“When I started to land it, it was very satisfying,” Nagasu said in September. “I could always visualize myself doing the jump; it was just getting my muscles to react as fast as they needed to. Now, in practice, it’s a very consistent jump for me.”
Every consideration has been taken in order for Nagasu’s triple Axel to be successful, even down to the weight of her dress.
“We are keeping in mind the weight of the stones, the weight of the dress, and something that people that people never think about is the weight of the glue,” her costume designer Pat Pearsall told NBCOlympics.com. “That is a consideration in her dresses probably from this point forward.”
Of course, it’s more of a psychological effect than a physical one, Pearsall said. These dresses can weigh from a little under a pound to a little more than a pound, on average.
Despite loving the dresses the team has created in the past, they’ve had to reduce the number of rhinestones they would typically add to a dress. Last year, Nagasu wore a dress with a heavy necklace down the back. For U.S. nationals, Pearsall is going to remake the dress and “keep it light, [and try] to keep the weight of the dress down.”
The first woman to land a triple Axel in competition was Midori Ito, who did so at the 1989 World Championships. They continue to be a rare jump within the scope of ladies figure skating.
The only woman to attempt a triple Axel at the Sochi Olympics was Japanese skating legend Mao Asada. In her short program, the jump was under-rotated and she fell, earning just 3.0 points. In the free skate, Asada went for it again. This time she earned a positive Grade of Execution, and her triple Axel was worth 8.93 points. The Vancouver 2010 silver medalist ultimately placed sixth in Sochi.
Russian skating phenom Yevgenia Medvedeva, the Olympic gold medal super-favorite, isn’t interested in learning the triple Axel. The double Axel is her least consistent jump, and she said she’d rather train a quad Salchow than work on the triple Axel.