U.S. figure skater Mirai Nagasu made history near the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics when she became the first American woman to land a triple axel jump at the Games — a move that helped lift Team USA to a bronze medal.
However, Nagasu will leave South Korea with two other Olympic skates behind her, both of lower quality than her work in that skating team event.
Despite those setbacks, she is already looking to the future.
“I smiled in the middle of my program, which is really rare for me. So I enjoyed myself and I thought of this as my audition for Dancing with the Stars,” she told reporters later Friday afternoon, after her free skate in the women’s individual event (which aired Thursday night into Friday morning stateside).
Nagasu’s second program in that event was largely seen as the rare shot for an American woman to make it onto the podium, given that she planned the notoriously tricky — and high-scoring — triple axel, which she had already landed in her team-event free program earlier in the Games.
But she whiffed on the chance to try it again on Friday, abandoning the move mid-leap, known as “popping” the jump.
Her total score, after a similarly middling short program, left her in 10th place, between teammates Bradie Tennell (ninth) and Karen Chen (11th).
Speaking candidly in a brief interview with the press after her free skate, Nagasu, 24, said the experience of her second Olympics had been a series of elating highs and depleting lows.
She gave her answers in long paragraphs of mixed emotion — speaking as an historic medalist who finished, in an event by herself, far from the podium where American women have historically been mainstays.
“I saved the team event with Adam [Rippon] and the [ice dancing siblings Alex and Maia] Shibutanis. We were about to lose our medal,” Nagasu said before pulling her bronze out of her jacket. She was referring to her second-place finish in her team free skate on Feb. 12, where she landed the triple axel.
“Today I put my medal in my pocket — here she is — and I said, ‘Mirai, you’ve done your job already and this is all just icing,’ and it has been so emotionally draining,” she said.
“But this is what I wanted and I’ve been crying every day since the team event because I was so happy,” she continued. “But then we had to keep training and training and training, and we’re just exhausted. And it’s a lot to go out there and represent our country.”
Of her short program and free skate in the women’s event, Nagasu was aware of where she had fallen but unapologetic of what she’d done to get there.
“I’m proud of what I did,” she said, adding, “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, so it’s unfortunate that I hit a rut today. But I’m proud of what I did.”
Nagasu did not mention the possibility of working toward another Winter Olympics. Returning for 2018, after a fourth-place finish at the 2010 Games and being overlooked for the 2014 team, has been an achievement unto itself.
“I wanted to be here and I’m so happy,” she said. “I also can’t wait to go home and put my medal around the kids’ necks at home and tell them that they can do it too, if they persevere. I hope there are better, brighter things to come and I hope that I get more opportunities to let my personality just shine.”
RELATED VIDEO: Ashley Wagner Shares Her Perspective on the Qualifying Figure Skaters of the U.S. Olympic Team
And of ABC’s reality competition, which has been a magnet for Olympians?
“I would like to be on Dancing with the Stars because I want to be a star,” Nagasu said, a trace of playfulness in her voice. “And I made history here by landing the first triple axel for a U.S. lady and third at the Olympics, so I think that’s a big deal.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.