The feat makes her the first U.S. female figure skater to land the jump during an Olympic competition.
Completing the triple axel at the start of her free skate in the figure skating team event on Monday morning (Sunday evening stateside) already set her apart from her competitors, all before she had even left the rink: None of the other women even planned to attempt the leap, which requires a forward takeoff and three-and-a-half rotations in the air.
Such a feat puts Nagasu — a 24-year-old who finished just off the podium at the 2010 Games and who was controversially overlooked for a spot on the team in 2014 — in select company around the world.
What’s more, 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.
Of those, only Harding had also done a triple axel in international competition. Then Nagasu joined her in 2017, at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic.
“To nail that triple axel, I tripped a couple of times going into it, but told myself ‘No, I’m going to go for it and I’m not pulling back,’ ” she told NBC’s Andrea Joyce shortly after competing. “That was really special for me.”
“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,” Nagasu tells PEOPLE. “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. And so today is a day of accomplishment for me,” she continues. “However, my Olympic experience is not over and I’m excited to go home and recover for a little bit and still soak in every second of this.”
She also told PEOPLE last fall that she has a strategic reason for wanting to nail the jump.
“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 said at the time.
“It’s kind of like a board game, and that’s my king,” she said. “So I want to use it as many times as I can.”
Her teammates went wild after she landed the jump, with fellow skater Adam Rippon — who nailed his free skate less than an hour before Nagasu — beginning to tear up after she landed the move and later planting a kiss on her cheek in celebration.
Nagasu told NBC she was “super happy to feel my teammate’s support.”
“It was really cool and I love that they are trying to help me,” she continued. “At the end, I heard [Team USA pairs skater] Alexa [Scimeca Knierim] say ‘You did it, girl.’ That’s why we’re here, to be part of Team USA and support each other.”
Rippon later told NBC’s Mike Tirico that it was special to see his longtime friend (and Olympic Village roommate) land the historic jump on the same night he made his successful Olympic debut — and he reminisced about how, four years ago, they were eating hamburgers on a rooftop after both missed the cut for Team USA in the 2014 Sochi Games.
“I love my girl and so proud of her tonight,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, then to see my friend go out there and skate like that is even better.”
Skating legends and fans also celebrated her accomplishment on Twitter.
“Wow @mirai_nagasu !!! Congratulations…tears of joy for you again! #1stAmerican3axel #hero” tweeted fellow Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi.
Ice dancer Meryl Davis also declared that it “was a sloppy cry kind of skate! I’m standing in my living room! mirai_) @mirai_nagasu What a TRIUMPH.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.