This week, Tonya Harding placed third in the Dancing With The Stars final. As we were reminded throughout the (blessedly) brief season, Harding was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, which she did in 1991. But Harding was not the first woman ever to do this jump—that distinction belongs to Midori Ito of Japan. She first did it at the NHK Trophy back in 1988; she used it again later in the season to win the world title.
Ito also became the first woman to land the triple axel at the Olympics. In 1992, she put one down to win the silver behind American Kristi Yamaguchi. Though this marked the end of Ito’s elite competitive skating career—though she did briefly return during the 1995-1996 skating season—it was not the end of the road. Ito is still skating.
Ito, who is now 48, has been active in adult figure skating competition for the last seven years, and while she’s not throwing down triples anymore she’s still got it. Here’s her performance from a recent competition.
You’ll notice that Ito doesn’t show off any of the jumps in that program that made her famous during her competitive career. But she can still jump—here she is nailing a double axel during the warmup.
More to the point, has anyone ever looked so happy while skating to an Ariana Grande song? It’s especially gratifying to see Ito so happy on the ice since she actually felt the need to apologize to the people of Japan for failing to win the gold medal in 1992.
Back before the 2018 Olympics, Mirai Nagasu, the first American female skater to land a triple axel at the Olympics, cited Ito as an inspiration for getting back into skating after one’s competitive and professional career is over. “People like Midori Ito, she competed at the adult world championships. I feel like I’ll probably be someone like that. I’ll find something else I’m good [at], like a different career path, and then come back for my adult debut,” Nagasu told me.
Maybe we’ll see a Nagasu vs. Ito matchup somewhere down the road. For now, it’s nice to see Ito still out there and having fun.
Correction (5:50 p.m.): The post originally had the incorrect year for when Ito first did the triple axel. It has been updated.