Just two days into the 2018 Winter Games, Mirai Nagasu made history as the first American woman to land a triple axel during the Olympics.
But the figure skating competition in PyeongChang has really only just begun.
So what exactly is it like to compete as a figure skater in the Olympics?
We sat down with 1988 Olympic pair skater for Great Britain Andrew Naylor to find out.
Naylor, owner of West Orange’s The Edge Skate Shop and a coach for Team Edge, competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, finishing 12th overall alongside partner Cheryl Peake. Together, the pair were six-time British National Champions.
The Olympic Experience
“It’s different,” says Naylor of performing on the world’s biggest stage. “I remember you could see everyone all the way up to the top. It takes your breath away when you look up and think, ‘that’s a lot of people up there.’”
Naylor recalls not only being stunned by the sheer amount of people in the stadium and knowing that millions more were watching from home, but by the mass amounts of television lights and press that surrounded him.
“It almost sounds like there’s a thousand flies around you,” Naylor said. “The television lights are what kind of hits you because it really brightens everything up and it’s very warm, and an ice rink isn’t usually warm like that.”
According to Naylor, training for the Olympics required five hours of practice each day, split up into two on-ice sessions with off-ice classes before, in the middle and after.
Despite the countless hours of work, it can be hard for athletes not to let the pressures of performing on an Olympic stage throw them off.
For Naylor, he struggled with letting his thoughts getting away from him during his performances. To compensate, he wrote a script of what he was going to think about during every second of the performance and rehearsed it over and over again.
“I had a story in my head telling me exactly what I’m going to do, ‘I’m going to think of my hand here, I’m going to think of my breathing here,’” he said. “I knew exactly what I was going to think of every second.”
Two Weeks with Tonya
Nagasu just became the second-ever American woman to land a triple axel in competition, behind Tonya Harding. Nagasu’s triple axel comes just two months after the release of the critically acclaimed film, “I, Tonya,” depicting Harding’s life and her part in one of the biggest scandals in sports history that left her banned from competitive ice skating for life.
While the resurgence of Tonya Harding has left Americans with differing opinions about her involvement with the attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan, there’s no question that at one time, she was one of the best figure skaters in the world.
Naylor hasn’t seen “I, Tonya.” Instead, he witnessed her talent first hand.
On a two week trip Harding’s hometown of Portland, OR with 1976 Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, Naylor got the opportunity to skate pairs for fun with Harding, following her life ban from competitive ice skating.
“She was amazing,” Naylor beamed. “She’s tiny and strong, so strong.”
He recalled doing a throw triple axel with her and mimicked her landing it perfectly.
Naylor used the world “solid” to describe Harding and gushed about her unparalleled strength.
“I wanted to skate with her all of the time,” he said, “but I couldn’t because she was banned from the sport.”
Where is He Now?
After his Olympic performance, Naylor partnered with Hamill in Cinderella Frozen in Time and had star roles in Disney on Ice Tours and Torvill & Dean Ice Adventure Tours. He later went back into pair skating with Rachel Gomez in 2005 and the two toured together for about six years before taking their partnership into coaching.
Six years ago, Naylor found his way to West Orange, and opened up The Edge Skate Shop, directly across the street from Richard J. Codey Arena on Northfield Avenue.
Now, Naylor and Gomez coach youngsters from about ages 6-12 as part of Team Edge, alongside other coaches including Olympic dance competitor Sinead Kerr, two-time Stanley Cup winner Grant Marshall, Noell Gomez and Autumn Turner.
Although it’s been 30 years since the 1988 Winter Games, Naylor keeps photo prints from the opening ceremony readily available for viewing in the drawer of his office desk.
He hopes to update those photos, as Naylor is coaching his girls for the long run, with the goal of taking them to Nationals, Worlds and then making his Olympic return as a coach.
To join Team Edge or schedule a lesson, visit http://edgeskateshop.com/ or call 973-731-7194.
Coming up in PyeongChang
Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot won the gold medal in pairs last night; the men’s individual competition will open tonight at 8 p.m. with the short program. Ice dancing will premiere on Sunday, Feb. 18 and figure skating will close out with the women’s individual contest, kicking off on Tuesday, Feb. 20.