Figure skater Mirai Nagasu has more than usual teenage angst
Nagasu, 16, and in her junior year at Arcadia High School, is introspective and self-deprecating to an unusual degree. When she made errors last season, she'd describe that as giving in to her dark side; on today, speaking at the U.S. Olympic Committee's media summit, she called the sport in which she excels "a burden I like," and said she sometimes resorts to golf when she needs "an excuse to hit something" and relieve her stress.
Exactly how much stress should so young a girl have been feeling, especially after winning the 2008 U.S. title and enchanting judges and fans with her grace and spirit?
Apparently, she felt a lot of stress last season, when she was trying to deal with a foot injury and fight philosophical battles with her coach, Charlene Wong. Nagasu insisted on competing through the injury while Wong urged her to rest. An obviously hurting Nagasu finished fifth at the U.S. championships and missed a berth on the world team at the World Championships, which were held at Staples Center. This summer, she left Wong for Frank Carroll and trains at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, often on the same ice as men's world champion Evan Lysacek.
Nagasu became emotional today in discussing her travails and acknowledged in a quavering voice that she had considered quitting the sport.
"There are always moments when I think about leaving skating, but when I think about that I'm not very smart and I'm not very pretty and there's nothing else that stands out about me besides my skating," she said, though she certainly comes across as bright and funny and is unquestionably attractive.
"So it's like the love of my life. It's like loving someone. You want to break up sometimes but if you get past those hardships everything will come together."
Nagasu said she settled on Carroll, who coached Michelle Kwan for nearly a decade and this season is also coaching former European champion Carolina Kostner of Italy, after consulting with choreographer Lori Nichol.
"I really wasn't sure what to do because I really liked Charlene but some of the decisions, she and I disagreed with," Nagasu said. "I disagreed with the reactions she had to them, especially at nationals, about how she told me that she was against how I skated. But before that she told me she supported me no matter what, so I felt it was like a stab in the back. I felt a change was needed. I felt that Mr. Carroll was just what I needed.
"The whole year I felt like I was running away from something, and running away from something doesn't ever solve anything. So at nationals, even though I didn't skate my best I felt like I skated what I could, so I'm very proud of that moment."
Nagasu also acknowledged that she's concerned that former U.S. champion and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen has returned to Olympic-track competition at the age of nearly 25. Cohen's return should create plenty of drama when the U.S. Olympic delegation is chosen after the U.S. championships in Spokane, Wash., in January because the U.S. can send only two women to the Vancouver Games. Nagasu on today shared the spotlight with several other likely contenders: defending U.S. champion Alissa Czisny, Ashley Wagner, Rachael Flatt and Caroline Zhang of Brea. Each said they welcomed the competition that Cohen would provide; Nagasu took an opposite tack.
"It's a little intimidating that the Olympic silver medalist is coming back," she said. "She just has that edge over us. Hopefully I'll use my experience this past year to help me out -- and my youth."
Nagasu, who said she might take a few years off after high school to concentrate on her skating, also said that the foot injury that plagued her last season no longer bothers her, but she must ice her shins after she skates. She's hoping she doesn't have to go through that again and can be the carefree kid who was dazzling in winning her U.S. title
"Sometimes I can't believe it's me that's competing because if I were like that I'm sure I'd have a chance against Yu-na Kim or Mao Asada," she said. "But that's the past me and this year I'm starting a new me so I'm just not looking back. I'm looking forward."
With as little angst as possible, we hope.
More from the summit later.
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Mirai Nagasu. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times