Mirai Nagasu has been called pretty much everything in the book — from the next big star in figure skating to an unfocused, lazy teenager.
But it cannot be denied that when this vibrant 18-year-old commits herself to the craft of figure skating, she is a formidable competitor.
Nagasu won the U.S. title in 2008, at age 15, but fell to fifth the following season. She bounced back to silver in 2010, earned a berth on the U.S. Olympic team and skated into fourth in Vancouver.
But last season she struggled with injuries and inconsistency, seemingly unable to find her groove. “It was hard for me to compete knowing I did not have as much training as I would have liked,” Nagasu said.
A disappointing third-place finish at the 2011 U.S. Championships left her off the World team. “Unfortunately for me, I did not skate well at nationals, which meant I did not go to Worlds. Watching that competition at home was a tough lesson for me, which is why this year I hope I won’t make the same mistake,” Nagasu said.
Shortly after Worlds Nagasu found herself on the sidelines of a controversy regarding Rachael Flatt’s participation in Moscow. “There were rumors that Rachael was injured prior to Worlds, but it’s not uncommon for skaters to wait until the last minute to withdraw,” Nagasu said.
As the first alternate for the U.S. team, her coach Frank Carroll had made it clear that Nagasu was prepared and ready if indeed Flatt was injured. “Mr. Carroll, being the expert on taking alternates to competitions, forced me to maintain my stamina. I wasn’t fully training, but he made me do a couple of programs a week, just in case.”
Flatt was subsequently fined by U.S. Figure Skating for failing to disclose her injury. Her 12th-place finish in Moscow cost the U.S. a chance at securing three berths for the 2012 global event.
“Not going to Worlds last season may have been a blessing in disguise since there were so many complications,” Nagasu said in reflection. “Regardless, I definitely wish that I had been there and hope that this year I will be.”
The complications she alluded to were due in part to a stress fracture in her left foot and shin that kept her off the ice much of the summer in 2010. The feisty teenager struggled to get into shape for the season but did not hit her stride until the Four Continents Championships in February, where she walked away with the bronze medal.
“As the year progressed, my results became stronger and stronger until I had the performance I was aiming for, which I did at Four Continents,” she said. “Unfortunately there was nothing I could do to speed up the healing process of my stress fracture earlier in the season.”
This year Nagasu is determined to leave behind the memory of being so close so many times, and finally live up to her potential in a big way. With the disappointment of not competing in Russia still fresh in her mind, she has been working on regaining her competitive nerve.
“It would be nice to improve my mental outlook on competing, but that takes time,” she admitted.
Nagasu’s short program this season is to Julian Plaza’s playful Tango “Danzarin” — a piece of music she surreptitiously included on the short list of possibilities provided to Carroll by choreographer Lori Nichol.
“Lori emailed me a few pieces of music which she told me to burn onto a CD for Mr. Carroll, so I secretly added it to the list,” Nagasu confessed with a smile. “Of course he loved it and gushed about it to Lori, who found the piece again and approved it for this season.
“The music is something that I had been hoarding for years. When Lori first introduced it to me I loved it right away, but she decided I was not mature enough for it, so it was forgotten. I never forgot about it, though.”
She will skate to Khachaturian’s “Spartacus” for the free skate — a piece she hopes will be the catalyst to overcoming her free skating woes from last season. “I think that compared to last year, I have more confidence in my programs because I’ve actually been training pain-free this summer,” she said. “This season, I will be better prepared because I actually have the time for sufficient training, and as a result, I believe that my performances will be much better.”
Nagasu was one of four figure skaters to graduate from the California Connections Academy in June and, with her high school studies left behind, admits to feeling a sense of relief.
“It was something I was ready for,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong; I have some great memories and friends that I will never forget, but with all the traveling and competing, it was difficult to keep my priorities straight.”
The high school graduate plans to attend college, but for now there are too many variables to work out.
“It’s definitely in my near future, especially since I was accepted into the University of California, Irvine, but right now it’s not even a possibility,” Nagasu said. “My mom and I drive three hours a day to and from Lake Arrowhead to train with Mr. Carroll and no matter how much I love working with him, it doesn’t make up for the stress of the drive. I don’t think commuting to and from Lake Arrowhead and Irvine is possible.”
Nagasu did not have time for a vacation after graduation, but she spent two weeks in Japan over the summer skating with a tour.
“It was so much fun,” she said. “Adam Rippon and I had so much fun learning part of Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s Bollywood original dance which we performed at the last show in Osaka.”
Nagasu has back-to-back Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and Cup of China, but opened her season with a resounding victory at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany in late September.
“People often overlook Nebelhorn, so it’s easy to forget that it is a Senior B event. But it was an opportunity to earn some World ranking points,” she explained. “It was also an extra opportunity for me to verify my levels and get feedback on my programs before the Grand Prix Series started.”
Originally published in December 2011