Why the triple axel is such a big deal

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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67 Responses

  1. Jack Regalado says:

    I thought they would use a person but instead they used Barbie….

    • NNT Flow says:

      It’s soo hard that most athletes can’t do it. Hence why they use CGI for the I, Tonya movie. Please do some basic googling before making that kind of comment.

    • inahrum says:

      correction. most WOMEN can’t do it. most of the top men can do a triple axel, no problem

  2. Vox says:

    It’s * Skate Week * on the Vox channel. Our unofficial celebration of all things ice skating. Keep an eye out for more videos coming this week from your favorite creators. (Hint: we definitely have some more Olympian appearances too). – The Vox team

  3. issa osama says:

    These dancers are top line athletes. Full on dedication and hard work for years and years non stop. Honestly just amazing work.

  4. Our Founding Liars says:

    The triple axel is also the name of the core component of the weather machine! Keep a s k I n g questions

  5. Just A German says:

    Everyone would need to ‘think about it’ if you asked them to describe something – anything – in one word

  6. Nick says:

    Thanks I was just wondering that

  7. Sid's BARBER says:


  8. der kaländer says:

    Deja vu? Wired?

    • Simon Pyszkowski says:

      der kaländer yeah, right?

    • Kattywompus says:

      A triple axle (three and some change rotations taking off from the inside of the skate) and a hypothetical quintuple jump – a jump being any takeoff, so conceivably from the toe or back edge, ostensibly much easier – are not the same thing. Explaining why a quint jump might be impossible when a quad isn’t is a different video than “this jump has only been performed by two American women at competition, here’s why.”

    • Nopple says:

      Kattywompus I agree with what you said but I thibk they’re point is that Wired made a video about an insanely hard/theoretical figure skating trick and this is a very hard figure skating trick. The videos base concept is very similar.

    • Kattywompus says:

      Sure, sure. But they’re both science-y/edutainment websites, and the Winter Olympics just started. Doing a video about the physics of figure skating isn’t the most shocking overlap.

  9. zlac says:

    Allegedly, all male skaters perform it while only eight female skaters have landed it in international competitions.

    • Lechiffresix six says:

      Surya Bonaly used to do plenty of these back in the day. Haters brought her down

    • Shankar Sivarajan says:

      I’m fairly certain you’re referring to a quadruple toe loop.

    • Lechiffresix six says:

      She mastered both . Dark skin was held against her .

    • Kristin Bracy says:

      Glad someone mentioned her! She was so powerful and still graceful @Lechiffresix six

    • Juil says:

      As they mentioned in the video, you only have your forward momentum to do the spin. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, if your body does not have enough mass, you won’t be able to pull it off.
      If the men were the same weight as the women, they’d have the same difficulty.

      Not to discount what the men do, but this is a similar issue in most sports. Mass plays a huge role and most women just can’t bring their body weight up to that level while still being a competitive athlete.

  10. Eltener123 says:

    I don’t get how they don’t all break their ankles tbh

  11. Tavi Ke says:

    vox Has me thinking about things i shouldn’t

  12. Refried Beans says:

    Hold your tounge and say “triple axle” ?

  13. iTrebor says:

    1:20 WAT.

  14. Ricky says:

    Iω = const

    • Qamar Pasha says:


    • Zakki says:

      OωO what’s this?

    • Robert says:

      not exactly. Angular momentum is only constant when there is no net external torque applied to the system. Angular momentum is the time integral of the net external torque, L = ∫rxFdt. Whenever the external torque is zero, the angular momentum is constant. Figure skaters change their angular momentum when they kick off of the ground, providing a source of external torque. Further, gravity can provide a net external torque while the figure skaters are in the air. This causes precession.

    • Lieutenant Snow-Eagle says:

      Robert You’re over-complicating it. For the time the skater is in the air, angular momentum is indeed near constant. Angular accleration due to precession, by definition, is normal to the angular rotation about the skater’s head-to-toe axis. The only loss in angular momentum comes from the force imparted on the air surrounding the skater (viscous and pressure drag) which is negligible relative to the torque that inititates the spin.

      Angular momentum is constant.

  15. darius jones says:

    Im going to be unstoppable next time I play trivial pursuit after binge watching vox.

  16. SEUNGHWAN CHOI says:

    Yuna Kim!!

  17. The Un Und Unly says:


  18. 加藤みずっち says:

    Mirai Nagasu

  19. Dean Natuno says:

    *The Iron Lotus*
    From the movie, *”Blades of Glory”* is better haha.

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