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U.S. ladies work to up technical ante

Triple Axel possible for Nagasu; Czisny to tackle triple-triples

Mirai Nagasu is thinking about putting a triple Axel into her programs this season.
Mirai Nagasu is thinking about putting a triple Axel into her programs this season. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford
(08/27/2011) - With Sochi fast approaching and Russian wunderkinds Adelina Sotnikova and Elizaveta Tuktamisheva hitting the Grand Prix circuit this fall, U.S. ladies are under pressure to add technical difficulty to their programs.

For Mirai Nagasu, that could mean the triple Axel, said her coach, Frank Carroll.

"She lands triple Axels," Carroll said at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp. "She just she did one in the other rink."

"She can do it, but it's not consistent; she does maybe one out of three. But we're working on it, and it's getting closer and closer. That would be a big trick for her to do, because no American woman is doing a triple Axel. It's not there yet, so she's got to work on it."

A triple Axel, with its base value of 8.5 points when done correctly, would vault the current U.S. bronze medalist into rarefied company. Among top ladies, only Japan's Mao Asada, the two-time world champion, regularly includes the jump in her programs.

Carroll is far more positive about his charge now than when we last saw skater and coach in the kiss and cry at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships. A botched spin and faulty double Axel in the free skate likely cost Nagasu a top-two finish and a trip to the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, and Carroll was none too pleased.

"You gave it away," he said at the time.

When Nagasu journeyed to Taipei for the 2011 Four Continents Championships, Carroll stayed behind to attend the opening of RISE, the film celebrating the lives of the 1961 U.S. world team and their coaches. Galina Barinova accompanied the skater to Taipei, where she skated season-best programs to win the bronze medal.

Now, the veteran coach thinks communication with his sometimes enigmatic skater has improved.

"To get what's really going on in their heads is sometimes difficult," Carroll said. "[Mirai] shared with me that when she was doing long programs, her mind wandered. She was thinking of some things that didn't go so well before or something that was coming up -- all kinds of different thoughts instead of getting out there and doing each thing that was coming along and just doing the program.

"When the time comes to skate, you don't think, you skate. You can't get out there and have your mind going in 50,000 directions. When you're a trained athlete, you do it."

Nagasu herself feels far better positioned this season than last, when a stress fracture derailed her summer training and she attended Champs Camp wearing a protective boot, unable to perform her programs.

"Last year was tough because I was injured," the 18-year-old said. "It was the longest I was [ever] off the ice. Exercise is really important to me, but somehow I slacked off.

"Getting my body back into shape was tough. I really did not get back into shape until Four Continents, where I did the best I could."

This summer, Nagasu said she took only a week off training, to complete work required to graduate from high school. In addition to the triple Axel, she's working to add a triple-triple combination or two to her programs.

"Hopefully, at some competitions in the season, I'll be able to incorporate them into my programs. Right now I'm just trying to get through my programs," she said.

"These past couple of seasons a lot of people have [told] me I'm really talented, but I haven't skated my best at competitions. I really want skate my best out there and max out my talent."

Nagasu is scheduled to compete at two Grand Prix events this fall: Cup of China, where she will face Sotnikova as well as world bronze medalist Carolina Kostner, and Skate Canada, where she goes up against Tuktamisheva.

Triple-triple on horizon for Czisny?

Jason Dungjen, who with wife Yuka Sato coached Alissa Czisny to her second U.S. title last season, confirmed his skater is close to adding triple-triple combinations to her programs.

"We're doing two of them, the toe-toe and then we're also playing around with the Lutz-toe," said Dungjen, who trains Czisny at the Detroit Skating Club.

"The toe-toe is actually all the way around and the Lutz-toe is very close. We're hoping one or both would be in the free, and maybe we'll have a back-up plan in the short. We'll see how consistent they are."

Dungjen thinks the technical prowess of younger skaters, like Sotnikova and Tuktamisheva -- who is slated to square off against Czisny at Trophee Eric Bompard in November -- has forced older athletes to up their technical games.

He said, "I think it's the nature of the beast. . . If you only stay where you are, someone is going to beat you, so you always have to push yourself, because the younger ones are thinking, 'How do I beat this person? I need to do a triple-triple.' They grow up with a much different mindset, and you just have to be willing to adapt [and] able to adapt."