Why the triple axel is such a big deal

Triple axels can turn skaters into legends. This is why.

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In this episode of Vox Almanac, Phil Edwards explores the triple axel and why it’s such a big deal. The figure skating jump is legendary among ice skaters, from Tonya Harding’s 1991 triple axel to modern icon Mirai Nagasu’s attempts in competition. It turns out that the physics of the triple axel makes it a uniquely difficult jump — and one worth learning about.

As a forward-edge jump, the mechanics of a triple axel requires technical acumen from skaters while they still try to maintain an artistically interesting performance. Pioneers like Midori Ito and Tonya Harding had to jump, ramp up rotation speed, and then land all while trying to look good. This effort set them apart from competitors like Nancy Kerrigan, but it wasn’t easy to land a triple axel in competition.

And that difficulty might be why the triple axel endures as the pinnacle of figure skating performance — and why it’s sure to light up the 2018 Winter Olympics as well.

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