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No tears, but Nagasu still must get past fears

MiraiCliveRoseGetty

At least there was no big crying jag for Mirai Nagasu this time.

Nagasu has made substantial overall improvement since that episode at November's Cup of China, yet she still must learn to cope with what caused it: the pressure of being first after the short program at an international competition. Call it fear of flying high.

As Mao Asada of Japan won her second world title in three seasons, helped by a second straight badly flawed performance by reigning Olympic champion Kim Yuna of South Korea, short program winner Nagasu came undone in the free skate Saturday at Turin, Italy.

The 16-year-old from Arcadia, Calif., made three significant errors and plummeted to 7th overall with an 11th in the free skate. "Coming off the Olympics, where I was fourth, finishing seventh here is a really big blow," Nagasu said. "I feel really bad." Reigning U.S. champion Rachael Flatt was 9th, four places below her 2009 finish.

Nagasu's coach, Frank Carroll, had insisted she shed "no more tears'' after the China event, when she dropped to 5th after the free skate. Despite some snuffling in her voice, Nagasu kept a mostly stiff upper lip in an interview with Universal Sports after Saturday's poor performance.

Prior to Saturday, she had put together five straight strong performances -- three short programs, two free skates -- at major events: the U.S. Championships, Olympics and worlds. That was big step up from last season, when a growth spurt, a foot injury and teenage angst left her a very tearful fifth at nationals -- a year after her surprising U.S. title at age 14 -- and prompted the coaching change that brought her to Carroll. 

She always has been hard on herself, and Saturday was no exception. "I told myself last year that I wouldn't feel like this any more, so it's really a bummer to feel like this again," Nagasu said. "It took a lot to get me out of the pits last year, and I sort of feel like I'm there again now. I'm going to go home and try to get ready for next season and just take it one step at a time." 

Nagasu started badly in the free skate, with a stepout on her first triple lutz that kept her from doing a combination. Then she had a two-footed landing on her second triple lutz, which was downgraded to a double, and a fall on a double axel, which was called a single.  Her final planned triple, an easy toe loop, also was downgraded.

"Sorry," Nagasu said to Carroll after coming off the ice. An hour later, she was trying to talk a U.S. figure skating official into going for ice cream at a nearby mall. The only positive about the free skate came in the component (or artistry) scores, where Nagasu ranked a more presentable 6th. 

Kim's chances of retaining her 2009 world title disappeared when she botched two of her final three jumps. Kim's score, 130.49, was nearly 20 points below the record total (150.06) she amassed in her Olympic victory last month. It was good enough to win the free skate, but well short of overcoming the eight-point lead Asada had over Kim after the short program, when the South Korean made mistakes on three different elements.

Asada, the Olympic silver medalist, finished with 197.58 to 190.79 for Kim. Extremely generous scoring for a program filled with double jumps (eight doubles to just three triples) gave Laura Lepisto 178.62, allowing her to hang onto third by .8 over Japan's Miki Ando and become the first Finnish woman to win a world medal. HugDamienMeyerGettyNagasu had 175.48, Flatt, 167.44.

Kim fell on a triple salchow and popped a double axel.  She also lacked spark throughout the 4-minute program. "My short program and the morning practice was not good, and I was worried," Kim said. "I am glad I was able to overcome the difficulties."

Kim's free skate score was still more than respectable. Only three other women (Asada, Joannie Rochette and Sasha Cohen) have scored higher. Kim, 19, said she would wait until after taking a break before deciding about competing next season. She was the first woman to skate at worlds in the same season she won the Olympic title since Kristi Yamaguchi of the U.S. in 1992.

Upon arriving in Turin, Kim said she had struggled with finding the motivation for worlds. "The Olympic Games were the biggest goal in my life," Kim said Saturday. "After winning the gold medal, I thought there was nothing more." 

Asada was second in 2007, first in 2008, then fourth last year, when Kim began to dominate the women's competition. "It has been a long time that I felt I had to work harder because of her (Kim)," Asada said. "Thanks to her, I grow as a skater, and I will be encouraged to work harder even from now on."

Asada, 19, gave every indication she will continue competing.  She is looking for a new coach after two seasons with Russia's Tatiana Tarasova.

-- Philip Hersh

Top photo: A dejected Mirai Nagasu, with coach Frank Carroll, after hearing her free skate scores. Credit: Clive Rose / Getty Images. Bottom photo: World champion Mao Asada of Japan congratulates silver medalist Kim Yuna of South Korea before the medal presentation Saturday. Credit: Damien Meyer / Getty Images

 
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Comments (1)

This isn't meant to defend Kim Yuna or anything...and I know the Winter Olympics are held every four years, but it doesn't seem right that the world championships are held only one month after the Olympics. It's no wonder so many Olympic medalists skip the event...even defending champions.


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