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Nagasu hopes being first again is far cry from the last time

January 22, 2010 |  9:24 pm


When Mirai Nagasu won the short program at the Cup of China Grand Prix last October, it brought her to tears.

They weren't tears of joy.

The idea of being ahead going into the free skate was simply too emotionally overwhelming for Nagasu, 16, the 2008 U.S. champion. The tears were what the French call a "cri du coeur.''

So her coach, Frank Carroll, sounding like a Johnson's Baby Shampoo commercial, issued a no-more-tears edict to Nagasu after she had finished sixth in the free skate in China.

Now the question is how will Nagasu deal with Saturday's free skate at the U.S. Championships after being first -- by less than half a point -- in Thursday's short program?

"I'm telling people not to talk about it," Nagasu said with a wry expression after Friday's practice.  "I'm trying to forget about it so I can just focus on the long program."

And then she tried a little mind trick.

"Right now I'm not really in first, because the top three in short program are so close, and even Ashley (Wagner, in fourth) is in contention,'' Nagasu said.  "Just the night of the long program, I've got to do what I've got to do."

Nagasu never has been one to hide her emotions.  She cried at the boards before taking the ice for the free skate in last year's nationals, afraid of repeating her terrible short program, then went out and gave a respectable performance to finish fifth.

"Just the fact I was able to defeat the dark side of me was an accomplishment," she said with the mix of candor and whimsy that has made her a delightful presence on the U.S. figure skating scene.

That was what she called the "evil" Mirai.  Is that side of her gone?

"I am trying to keep her away right now," she said. "I can go either way, and right now I'm heading in a good direction."

Nagasu is delightfully honest, clever and articulate.  When a colleague working on a story about the rise of Asian-American and Asian skaters asked the Japanese-American Nagasu to explain why that has happened, she thought for milliseconds and replied, "Maybe Asians are switching from studying to sports.''  

To another question, about feeling more comfortable with a body that has grown eight inches and gained 30 pounds since 2007, this was her answer:

"Last year, I wasn't really comfortable," Nagasu said.  "I felt a little bit pudgy. This year, I've changed it more to muscle because I started going to the gym.  It's common sense that the skinnier you are, it's easier to jump. I kind of changed everything into muscle so I can use it to my advantage."

Nagasu flew across the ice Thursday night, giving a performance that drew the crowd from its seats to applaud. Only Sasha Cohen, who trails Nagasu by .43, got a similar ovation.  

"Sasha commands your attention with her maturity and ethereal quality," said 1984 Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton. "Mirai invites you in."

Nagasu had noted how Internet discussions gave her no chance to get one of the two spots on the 2010 Olympic team.  Now she is one strong four-minute skate from going to Vancouver.

"I just want to make a better impression than last year and keep climbing up the mountain because the journey is still long for me,'' Nagasu said. "If I make it, it's a great opportunity for me. If I don't, I'll just put my sweat into the next Olympics."

Sweat, and maybe some blood.

But definitely not tears.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Mirai Nagasu works on a flying spin in Friday's practice.  Rick Bowmer / Associated Press