Mirai Nagasu, who turned 15 in April, surprised the nation again this year when she defeated the favorites, 2006 World champion Kimmie Meissner and 2007 Junior World champion Caroline Zhang, to win the U.S. senior ladies gold medal. Last year, she also surprised Zhang, who had won every event until then, by winning the 2007 U.S. junior ladies title.
“This little girl never stops surprising me,” said her coach, Charlene Wong. “The stars were all aligned for her. Our focus (at Nationals) was only finishing in the top half, not winning the whole thing. We’ve tried to focus only on her skating, not her results. There’s no need to have her whole career all at once.”
Last season, Nagasu also won both of her ISU Junior Grand Prixs (JGP) events in Lake Placid, New York and Zagreb, Croatia, before taking the gold at the JGP Final in Gdansk, Poland.
Her victory at U.S. Nationals was set up by a spectacular short. Scoring an overwhelming 70.23 points, Nagasu led Zhang by 16.74 and Meissner by 12.65. Nagasu held up in the long, garnering 120.18 points for a total of 190.41 to win by less than two points over Rachael Flatt. “It was kind of like last year,” Nagasu said. “It was a surprise but a pleasant surprise.”
Nagasu’s short program included a triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination, a triple loop, and a double Axel. In her long, she included three combinations: a triple Lutz-triple toeloop, triple flip-double toe, and triple loop-double loop.
“Mirai is very driven,” Wong said. “The first thing she said after nationals was ‘how can I get my base mark higher’? She wants to look more like a senior lady. She looks like one more than she did, but there’s levels of maturing on ice. After each performance, we talk about her attitude during the program and her thought processes as well as her elements. When the mind learns, the body follows.”
“I really wanted to compete in seniors in 2006, but I realized I didn’t have the experience,” Nagasu explained. “Last season was my year to get experience and the points. I think I did so successfully. I’d like to make by senior international debut with a bang.”
Her chance will come in less than three months when she competes at Skate America. Nagasu is also slated to compete at the NHK Trophy. “I’m thankful for both of the Grand Prix assignments that I got because they are chances for me to show off what I’ve got,” Nagasu said. “As my first senior year on the international circuit, I’m going to keep my goal simple: have fun and show the world that Mirai Nagasu can compete on the senior circuit as well. I am excited for both Grand Prixs because both that I was assigned are places special to me. Japan and America are both my homelands, so I’m excited to be competing at both!”
In addition to having fun, Nagasu’s other primary goal is to gain experience on the senior Grand Prix circuit. “But I’ve got a lot of work to do first,” she admitted. “I had a lot of trouble with the flying sit spin at the beginning of last year and I was getting level 1s on it. It was kind of fun to work on it for each competition, and finally I got my level 4. So I’m really pleased with that. Since the flying sit spin is a point-getter, I will probably keep it for this upcoming season since I’ve gotten it now.”
“We’ve been working this summer on the triple Axel again,” Wong revealed. “Mirai landed her fair share last summer, but not to her liking. We decided to stop training the triple Axel last December so as not to be training it at the expense of her other skills. But she’ll always practice it because it’s fun for her.”
Nagasu has had a bit of a growth spurt over the summer. “Just like for most people, my growth spurt has affected my balance on my jumps,” Nagasu said, “but it’s something I will have to get used to.”
In addition to Wong, Nagasu also gets help from Sondra Holmes and Bob Paul. She trains on ice for two hours a day, six days a week plus a few hours of off ice work. “I’ve been taking ballet classes ever since I started skating,” Nagasu added. “Right now I’m taking classes two days per week for an hour.
“Mirai really loves training,” Wong stated. “It’s like a dessert to her. But like a dessert, you can have too much. Mirai’s mother is a smart woman and doesn’t let her have too much.”
Nagasu came into skating accidentally. She initially was attracted to golf, but went skating with her parents one day when it was too rainy to play. After that, she decided skating was more fun and started lessons with Paul at the age of five. By the age of eleven, she had landed her first double Axel and all five triples.
“Mirai can add a triple toe or a triple loop to every triple she does,” Wong continued. “Anything that she masters in practice, she wants to put in a program the next time. She also likes to watch and learn from other skaters – especially those that skate with precision. It inspires her.”
After her win at U.S. Nationals, Nagasu was a favorite for the ladies crown at the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, but it was not to be. After taking the silver medal last season, Nagasu had to settle for the bronze in 2008.
“I just wanted to have fun and skate my best,” Nagasu said. “There was a lot of media attention after nationals and that bothered me a little bit, but that’s something I have to learn to work with.”
“I had been training all year as a junior, so going back to my junior program was pretty easy,” Nagasu reflected. “But I made a rash decision to get into new skates after nationals. Then the new ones were too small and hurting my feet so I didn’t get them right until just before Junior Worlds. I also had some bursitis in my left knee, then I sprained my right ankle in the morning practice before the free, but I tried to put all that aside.”
“I was pleased with my short, but I wavered a lot in my long,” she continued. “I think this was a good way to end my season, because I learned something. In the long program, I think I let my nerves take control of me instead of me taking control of them, which disappoints me a little bit.”
“Junior Worlds was the last event of a long two years,” Wong said. “It’s been exciting but emotionally, physically and mentally demanding for her. Mirai doesn’t do many shows. We’re trying to plan shows around her life outside of skating.”
Lori Nichol will be choreographing her new programs for the 2008-09 season. For the short, Nagasu will be using Smile from the Charlie Chaplin soundtrack, and excerpts from Dom Pierre and Can-Can for the long. “Lori always has a selection of music to show Mirai,” Wong explained. “I encourage them to choose the music together because I have a lot of trust in Mirai’s instincts. She’s so multi-dimensional that she can do it all.”
“It’s nice to get new programs again,” Nagasu added. “I have a lot of say in what I skate to. Because of my busy schedule, I was only able to visit Lori up in Toronto for a week, but we spent an intense week working on the new programs. They are absolutely beautiful! Lori and I decided on the music together. She did have some pieces ready for me, but we decided that they weren’t the perfect pieces, so we spent a long nine hours listening to music until we found the perfect pieces.”
“Mirai has progressed so fast that to keep the old ones would be limiting,” Wong noted. “They’re both incredibly challenging programs requiring her to grow technically, creatively and emotionally. They are helping her to develop the sophistication and power to display her talents on the ice. Hopefully, the ones for this season will elevate her yet again and allow her to be competitive with the best in the world.”
Nagasu used the same exhibition program music in 2007-08 as she used in 2006-07, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes from the Cinderella soundtrack. “For the 2008-09 season, we’ll have a new one and I’ll help with that,” said Wong.
Nagasu will be attending Arcadia High School as a sophomore in the fall. “I like history,” she said. “There are all sorts of interesting facts.” She plans to go to college, but hasn’t decided what she wants to study although she has an interest in robotics.
For fun, Nagasu enjoys going out with friends, reading and knitting. She also enjoys visiting California amusement parks. “The best things at amusement parks are definitely the roller coasters,” she said. “I love the excitement, thrill, and speed of them! I also scream my head off…which is always fun too!” She collects stuffed monkeys and has a peach faced lovebird as a pet.