In honor of Elizaveta Tuktamysheva's successful triple axels of late, here's a comparison of all the ladies who have successfully landed a triple axel at least once at an international ISU competition.
Midori Ito was the first lady to ever land a triple axel in competition. Ms. Ito's technical abilities as a jumper was so insanely far ahead of her contemporaries such that she is, to me, the Niccolo Paganini of ladies figure skating insofar as she was a phenomenon rather than a development. Put into perspective, when Midori Ito won her world title in 1989 with a triple axel, the most difficult jump in Katarina Witt's world title-winning program in 1988 was a solo triple loop. Similarly, Jill Trenary's gold-medal program at 1990 Worlds had a solo triple flip as its most difficult jump. Admittedly, Ms. Ito's competitive results in the earlier days of her career can be attributed to the role of compulsory figures, which Ms. Ito was known to be rather poor at. But as the numerous technical-mark 6.0s Ms. Ito received in her programs attests, the phenomenal quality of Ms. Ito's jumping ability cannot be denied. In the two decades since Ms. Ito retired from competitive skating, her triple axel still arguably stands as the best ladies triple axel ever. For proof, I submit the following exhibits:
Though this triple axel was not landed in competition, it's so insane I have to include it here. Despite being about half the size of Kurt Browning physically, Ms. Ito's triple axel had quite literally the same height as Mr. Browning's.
Is this Ms. Ito's best triple axel ever? Given the fierce competition for the honor, it's so hard to choose. But just look at the speed and flow in and out of the jump, its sheer height, that gorgeous tight air position. Also ogle at how Ms. Ito finishes the 3.5 rotations about two feet off the ice in the air with plenty of time to spare.
Look at that badass triple axel-double toe combination. LOOK AT IT. It practically clears the height of the boards (!!!). For once Scott Hamilton is justified for yelling in lieu of commentary . . .
Some may quibble at the very slight leg wrap of Ms. Ito's triple axel, it doesn't bother me. It's only a very slight wrap, and the unsightliness of the bent leg is more than negated by the mind-blowing height, distance, flow and amplitude of the jump.
Tonya Harding was perhaps the most gifted ladies jumper the US has ever produced. But to me, the hallmark of Ms. Harding's jumping ability was her giant triple lutz, not her triple axel. Why? For one, Ms. Harding landed only a few successful triple axels in competition.
Moreover, even Ms. Harding's best triple axels were distractingly off-axis in terms of air position, and she often had that wild swinging free leg coming out of the jump. Indeed, the landing of most of Ms. Harding's triple axels seemed to precariously cling onto the landing edge by sheer force of will.
However, credit must be given for the sheer height and power of Ms. Harding's triple axel. If any jumps could be defined as "explosive," it would be Ms. Harding's.
Yukari Nakano was the third-ever ladies skater to land a triple axel at an ISU competition at 2002 Skate America, about a decade after Ms. Ito and Ms. Harding landed theirs.
Ms. Nakano's first triple axel ever at the Chubu Regional Championships was quite good, but as the rest of the video compilation of Ms. Nakano's triple axels shows, many of Ms. Nakano's subsequent triple axels were obviously under-rotated even in real time. Moreover, even her best triple axels require some extra scrutiny when it comes to rotation, as they were extremely borderline. One could certainly imagine the more zealous members of the Underrotation Inquisition slapping almost all of Ms. Nakano's triple axels with the dreaded <.
Interestingly, however, it should be noted that although Ms. Nakano was criticized for her very distracting leg wrap in her jumps, her triple axel did not have a leg wrap. It's a good thing she didn't wrap her triple axel, as she would never have gotten it around if she did.
Ludmila Nelidina was the first European ladies figure skater to successfully land a triple axel at an international competition at 2002 Skate America. Did Ms. Nelidina ever land another triple axel cleanly? She seemed to have completely disappeared after the 2002-2003 season except for a tenth-place finish at 2004 Worlds, so I have no idea.
Unfortunately, Ms. Nelidina's triple axel pales in comparison to the likes of Ms. Ito's and Ms. Harding's triple axels. Ms. Nelidina enters her triple axel with very little speed, and the height and distance of the jump is negligible. Though it's hard to tell due to the poor video quality, it does look like she managed to rotate it fully, though.
The other attempts I could find of Ms. Nelidina's triple axel on Youtube were all under-rotated and two-footed, a fact immediately apparent from even the extremely pixelly videos available.
It makes me sad that when most people think of Mao Asada's triple axels, they remember the time when she became the first lady to land three triple axels in a single competition at the 2010 Olympics.
Sure, it's extremely impressive that Ms. Asada was able to land three ratified triple axels under the exacting pressure and scrutiny of the Olympic Games. But her triple axels during the 2009-2010 season were nowhere near her best ones. Ms. Asada's triple axels then still had their characteristic lightness, but they lacked flow especially coming out of the jumps (so many of them were landed at an almost complete standstill), and the height and distance was just mediocre.
For a much more impressive example of Ms. Asada's triple axel, look at her triple axel at 2007 Worlds. Firstly, note how Ms. Asada does brackets into her triple axel, a difficult transition into the jump that even some men have trouble doing. Has any other lady done brackets into their triple axel? I honestly don't recall. Secondly, note the speed, flow, and effortless quality of the jump. Ms. Asada's triple axel in 2007 still lacks the power and amplitude of Ms. Ito's and Ms. Harding's triple axels, but it makes up for it with its superior air position (no leg wrap or off-axis air position here!) and smoothness. Another thing Ms. Asada has in her favor is the sheer number of successful triple axels she has landed in competition, the number of which dwarfs everyone else on this list thus far.
Another example of Ms. Asada's triple axel during her teenage years. There's a slight, barely discernible tap of the free foot on the ice, but it's so smooth and effortless.
However, as puberty struck, the rotation of Ms. Asada's triple axel became increasingly dicey, as did its quality even when she managed to rotate the jump (see, e.g. the 2009-2010 season). However, by the 2013-2014 season, Ms. Asada's triple axel looked much improved. She had much more speed going into the jump, a shorter set-up, and the flow exiting the jump was also significantly better. As a result, the triple axel looked much more integrated into her programs. Moreover, Ms. Asada was also using her arms less to propel herself into the axel upon the takeoff, thus enhancing its effortless quality.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva became only the sixth ladies skater to successfully land a triple axel in international competition at the 2015 Bavarian Open. In some ways, the triple axel has been a long time coming for Ms. Tuktamysheva, as we've seen videos of her landing triple axels when she was still a wee child.
To prove that her Bavarian Open triple axel was no fluke, Ms. Tuktamysheva then proceeded to successfully land a triple axel in the short program at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships. What I like about Ms. Tuktamysheva's triple axel is her spring into the jump--she doesn't get that much distance, but the height of the axel is quite impressive, even if it does not quite have the height of Ms. Ito's. There's also zero question of under-rotation even when she falls (thus far), which will serve her well, as a fully-rotated triple axel even with a fall puts Ms. Tuktamysheva at a significant advantage against her double axel'd competitors in the short program.
Ms. Tuktamysheva's triple axel in the long program at the 2015 World Team Trophy was also very impressive. What I would like to see improved in the future is the set-up into the triple axel--more speed, less time.
If I had to rank the triple axels of the six ladies so far, it would be:
1) Midori Ito (#1 by far)
2) Mao Asada (effortless, quantity of successful axels landed)
3) Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (will potentially move up to #2 once she lands more of them)
4) Tonya Harding (huge and explosive, but sloppy and too few landed)
5) Yukari Nakano (under-rotation issues, not that great quality)
6) Ludmila Nelidina (ditto, but at least Ms. Nakano landed more of them)