Friday, July 1, 2011

Figure skating’s future lights up Fourth

Mirai Nagasu headlines Ice Show opening night

Express Staff Writer

Mirai Nagasu is the headliner for Saturday’s Sun Valley Ice Show opening performance. Courtesy photo

In some ways, 18-year-old Mirai Nagasu is a typical teen.

She is still getting used to the idea that she recently graduated from high school; she had a "blast" at the first prom she attended this spring; and, according to her publicist, the best way to get a hold of her is to text.

Her favorite color is pink and she lists her movie picks as "Pirates of the Caribbean," "En-chanted" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks." She loves the L.A. Lakers.

But in more ways, Nagasu is far from typical. She commutes three hours, round-trip, every day, from her hometown of Arcadia, Calif., to figure skate.

Under the meticulous eye of coach Frank Carroll, who has trained world-renowned skaters in-cluding Linda Fratianne and Evan Lysacek, she jumps and spins and strokes for five to six hours every day.

At least, now, she doesn't have to come home and tackle her homework, too. Oh, and by the way, "Mirai" means "future" in Japanese. And this Mirai's future seems very bright indeed.

This weekend, Nagasu will be a part of Independence Day celebrations as the headliner at the first Sun Valley Ice Show of the 2011 season.

She is sure to wow the crowd with her elegant style, grace and signature spins. She will skate what she describes as a "fun exhibition piece," meaning a program less concerned with things she has to do than with allowing her personality to shine through.

Even those who don't follow the world of figure skating probably know Nagasu's name. She was one of only two American women to represent the U.S. in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games at Van-couver. There, at 16, she placed a stunning fourth.

"That was the best I'd skated in competition that year," she said with a laugh. "The timing was good."

Accelerating her training for the Olympics involved embracing some monumental changes.

She left the public school system she had attended her whole life to finish high school online. That was required to accommodate a change of coach, all that commute time and the need to be in her skates a good percentage of her waking hours.

Placing so well in Vancouver was encouraging to Nagasu on many levels.

"It made me feel like I'd made the right decision," she said. "It made me feel like all the changes were worth it."

Her Olympic accomplishment, while perhaps the most well known, is one of many she has racked up lately.

To name just a few, Nagasu was 2008 national champion, 2010 U.S. silver medalist and 2007-2008 Junior Grand Prix Final champion, and she took bronze at the 2011 Four Continents Champion-ship. She holds the distinction of being the youngest lady since Tara Lipinski to win the U.S. senior ladies title—so, the second youngest in figure skating history.

If it hadn't been for an inclement day in otherwise sunny Southern California, Nagasu might have never realized those dreams. The only child of avid golfers, a trip to the links was waylaid one day by rain. Her mother decided to take her skating instead.


"That's when I knew I wanted to keep skating," Nagasu said. "Bye, bye golf!"

There was no going back. Skating came relatively easily to Nagasu, who enjoys all elements of the sport.

"I would like to think I'm a good all-around skater," she said. "I like to jump and spin both."

That's not to say, though, that she didn't encounter a few proverbial bumps in the road. One bump was her double axel, a jump that involves two and a half revolutions in the air.

"It took me three years to get that one!" she said with a laugh.

Nagasu concedes there is a lot of pressure on young figure skaters.

"I'm still figuring out how to keep the pressure down," she said. "It can be a little overwhelm-ing."

Very supportive parents help to offset the pressure young skaters feel.

"My mom is a total skating mom," Nagasu said. "She drives me to practice every day and doesn't miss one competition."

Her father, the owner of a sushi restaurant, cannot travel to each competition, but supports his daughter unconditionally. Her mother and father are both immigrants from Japan, and Nagasu speaks both Japanese and English and embraces both cultures.

Her skating hero is Michelle Kwan, 40, of Torrance, Calif., a five-time world champion and nine-time U.S. women's figure skating champion known as one of the all-time best.

"To me, she is the epitome of a champion," Nagasu said. "To have won so many titles and be-haved so graciously, she is a real role model to younger skaters."

And Nagasu is sure to be a role model to this area's young skaters on her second visit to Sun Val-ley.

She said she very much enjoyed skating here last time and is excited to be returning. Highlights of her first visit included a ride up Bald Mountain on the ski lift and admiring the swans outside the Lodge.

"I had never seen swans that close before," Nagasu said. "I will never forget them."

This weekend, a boat adventure is on Nagasu's list of things to do.

"I've never done that," she said. "I like to try new things."

She is also considering another trip up Baldy, this time in the gondola.

But mostly, she wants to keep skating and training and improving in the sport that she loves.

"Considering that I won't be able to do these jumps when I'm 40, I want to enjoy my skating ca-reer as much as I can right now," she said.

People can see Nagasu skate this Saturday, July 2, at the Sun Valley outdoor ice rink. The show begins at dusk. Tickets are available at or by stopping by the Sun Valley Village Recreation Office. There will be a fireworks display after the show.

In this weekend's ice show, Nathan Chen, another young phenom from Utah, will also be a fea-tured headliner.

This 12-year-old, like Nagasu, is electrifying the skating world at a very young age. By winning the Novice gold medal at age 10 in 2010, Chen became the youngest national Novice champion in the U.S.

Nagasu is familiar with how hard Chen is working and what is expected of him, but thinks he is doing great.

"He's really talented," she said. "He's handling everything really well."

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