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Skate coach Carroll on his new star pupil: 'Best package America has'

May 20, 2009 |  5:15 pm


Can't say I'm surprised by figure skater Mirai Nagasu announcing Wednesday that she was leaving coach Charlene Wong to join Frank Carroll.

Skaters leave coaches all the time, usually after disappointing seasons like the one Nagasu had -- although Michelle Kwan left Carroll the season after winning her fifth U.S. title and fourth world title.
Sobarely a year after Wong's coaching helped Nagasu become the Cinderella champion of the 2008 nationals at 14, the two have ended their three-year collaboration.

"I don't see it as something Mirai did against me,'' Wong told me by telephone Wednesday. "It's a moving on. We don't own students; I never even had a contract (to coach Nagasu).

"There was no big drama or big upset -- not even a slamming of the door. There are no bad feelings.''
There had been one significant disagreement. After the 2008 season, Wong counseled a long rest period for Nagasu to get over a chronic foot injury, but her parents saw no reason why their daughter couldn't push through it.

"Sometimes the coach is wrong,'' Wong said.

The results say otherwise in this case. Nagasu had a lost season in 2009, with a fifth and a dismal eighth in her two Grand Prix events and a fifth at nationals.

Nagasu tried unsuccessfully to cope with the injury, a growth spurt and the pressure of coming to nationals as the defending senior champion, a title she had unexpectedly won only a year after she had become the surprise junior champion.

After a disastrous short program at 2009 nationals in which she literally hit the wall, an unnerved and adolescent angst-ridden Nagasu cried from apparent dread before she took the ice for the free skate.  Then she gave a remarkably poised performance that left her exulting at the end.

And that was the last we heard about Nagasu -- who worked with a Japanese TV network at the March world championships -- until the coaching change announcement, which should end the too-many-cooks approach Team Nagasu was using.

Nagasu worked with seven people, including Wong as "primary coach,''  two "jump doctors," a choreographer, a style coach, an ice dance coach and a trainer.

I also spoke with Carroll by telephone Wednesday, and he made it clear that there will be no coaching committee after he begins working with Nagasu on June 15.

"When we met, I told her I didn't want that any more,'' Carroll said. "She can still work with other people when I am not at the rink on Mondays, but I don't want everyone in the world giving her input.''

Ken Congemi, who has coached with Carroll for several years, will fill in when Carroll has travel commitments to his other champion skater, Evan Lysacek, who also is recovering from a foot injury.
(Carroll said an MRI showed Lysacek's injury was not a stress fracture, as the skater thought after winning the 2009 world title, but rather acute inflammation of tendons and ligaments in the left foot. 
"He will take a month off,'' Carroll said.)

Nagasu's move will not involve much of a geographic relocation. She lives in Arcadia and trains north of Los Angeles. Now she will be training west of Los Angeles, at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.

This is not the first time Carroll will be coaching a man and woman with national champion on the resume: he had Kwan and Timothy Goebel in 2001.

Carroll plainly was excited by the opportunity to work with Nagasu, whom I think has the most "it'' factor of any U.S. woman who competed last season.

"I think she is the best package America has, when she is well and in one piece,'' Carroll said. "It will be interesting to see what I can do with her.

"She has never been able to be in a real training program before, because she was skating on a rink filled with little kids, and it was impossible for her to do full run-throughs of programs.''

Carroll said Nagasu told her that new skates and orthotic inserts are expected to alleviate the problems with her foot.

And he hopes there will be no problems with people challenging his decisions.

"Sometimes the coach gets second-guessed by outside elements, and that experience usually turns out to be a negative one,'' he said.

-- Phil Hersh

Photo: Mirai Nagasu at the 2009 U.S. Championships. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press