Mirai Nagasu entered the 2018 Winter Olympics as the only woman with a triple axel in her program. The jump is the most difficult in women’s figure skating and had never been performed successfully by an American woman at the Olympics – until the team event in PyeongChang.
Nagasu made history when she perfectly landed the jump, which has since become the most triumphant single moment for any American figure skater at the 2018 Games – and she had high hopes of repeating that performance in the ladies single event. She fell on her triple axel attempt in her short program, but had another shot at repeating the achievement in her free skate.
However when the time came for her to hit the jump at the top of her program, what she did was even worse than falling.
Instead of attempting the jump, which would have earned her points for trying a difficult move even if she’d failed to execute it cleanly, she popped out of the jump entirely, doing a waltz jump which is merely a half a rotation in the air. In doing so, she received no points from the judges at all — meaning she might as well have just skipped over it all together.
She also popped out of a different jump later in her routine — and the same philosophy applies. By not attempting it at all and falling out of it, she lost all of the point value.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) February 12, 2018
In both instances, particularly with the triple axel’s high-point value due to its’ difficult, she would’ve been better off falling or under-rotating than not jumping at all. Figure skating is one of the few sports in which the effort to execute difficult moves is often rewarded more than the successful execution of easier ones.