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Tears dry, Nagasu may be ready to surprise

Will the real Mirai stand up in Spokane?

Mirai Nagasu hopes to show the judges and fans in Spokane what "good Mirai" can do.
Mirai Nagasu hopes to show the judges and fans in Spokane what "good Mirai" can do. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/18/2010) - Mirai Nagasu has hit town, and the bubbly 16-year-old is already charming the press.

"Wow, you're tall too!" the 5-foot-4 inch skater told this 5-foot-10 inch reporter as we walked down the hall.

"I love getting taller. I'd like to be 5 foot 7, but I don't know if that's going to happen."

How time flies. Skating fans were first introduced to Nagasu as a 4-foot-10-inch mite, upsetting Caroline Zhang for the 2007 U.S. junior title and going on to claim silver at junior worlds that season.

The following year, at age 14, she won the U.S. senior title but was too young to go to worlds.

Since then, there's been a growth spurt or two, a chronic foot injury and a few disappointments (including a fifth-place finish at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships), but her promise is undiminished.

"Mirai just has to believe in herself and her skating," the skater's choreographer, Lori Nichol, said. "I spent a lot of time with her [in December], and she's on the up."

Nagasu has had her share of teenage angst and crying jags, something she's described as "evil Mirai" moments.

Good Mirai enchants crowds with wicked speed and a mega-watt smile; evil Mirai goofs off in practice and at least once was told by her no-nonsense coach, Frank Carroll, to leave their El Segundo rink and come back with a better attitude in the morning.

Wearing her heart on her sleeve is "kind of one of my negatives, but also a positive part about myself, because I'm always honest with myself," Nagasu said.

"Mr. Carroll says I'm really lucky, because some girls have a hard time accepting themselves and are very humble and afraid to show their emotions. I try not to show emotions too much, but when I'm disappointed, it's really clear in my face. I try to hold back but it comes out naturally."

Nagasu is a bit of a wild card here in Spokane, although she showed some good form at Skate Canada in late November, winning the short program before jump downgrades took their toll in the free skate, leaving her off the podium in fourth place.

"I lost a medal by two points, and I really wanted to take a medal home. I haven't for so long," Nagasu said.

"If I had just held my spirals a little longer or not had that badly cheated loop or something, I would have gotten it. It just wasn't the day for me. But I have time because I'm so young, and I hope I'll get the medal when it counts."

Later this week, she'll take the ice against defending champion Alissa Czisny; two-time silver medalist Rachael Flatt; Grand Prix Final qualifier Ashley Wagner; and the returning Sasha Cohen.

"I think that that all of the girls have their problems," Nagasu said. "I feel like the girls who can get over some of [their problems] will take the two [Olympic] spots.

"I'm going to take everything one step at a time, since my program is four minutes, which last year I thought was really long. But it's getting a little easier, especially training with Mr. Carroll, 'cause even if I moan and groan, he'll just make me do it again, so I just do it the first time."

Lest anyone think Carroll is an ogre, Nagasu is quick to add, "He's a lot of fun. He's like an oxymoron, or a paradox. He's really nice but strict. It's good because I'm more disciplined now, and if you tell me to do a program, I can do it on the spot."

Nichol and Carroll haven't made any big changes to Nagasu's programs, including a free skate to Bizet's Carmen; the focus has been on improving the skater's program components, those presentation and style scores that used to be called "the second mark."

"Mirai loves her [Carmen] music," Nichol said. "At first I was cautious about it, but I believe in Mirai and how charming she is; when she smiles, she lights up the planet."

That smile is back, after a temporary leave of absence.

"I've just been tying to work on connection with the character [Carmen] more, because before, I thought having a serious face would make me look more mature and raise my component marks, but instead it just made me look bored out of my mind," Nagasu said.

A flirtatious smile and bright presentation might help Nagasu's component marks, but they can't fix under rotated jumps, another big concern heading into Spokane.

"I think I've kind of grown up with both judging systems and in 6.0 I could get away with a lot of cheats," Nagasu said. "Just the way I jump I land on like my curve instead of straight out clean and sometimes it can go both ways and it really depends on the judge and where exactly my foot lands."

Whatever happens this week, says Nagasu, she's only 16, and she's not giving up. There's always Sochi in 2014.

"There can be another Olympics, but if I make this one it will be showing myself that I can take that chance," she said.

"I know I have the ability; I just hope I can pull it out of myself. I definitely want to go but if I don't then I'll just go home cry a little and get ready for the next season."