For Nagasu, it's all one long, strange ride

Recovered Czisny plans to scale back triples in San Jose

Mirai Nagasu will be happy with any result, which is why she might come out on top.
Mirai Nagasu will be happy with any result, which is why she might come out on top. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/12/2012) - If Mirai Nagasu wins her second U.S. title this month, it will be on her own unorthodox terms.

The 18-year-old Californian didn't sound too fixated on her title chances at her media teleconference on Wednesday, kicking off the call by saying her biggest inspiration these days comes from Madison Cowan, a "cheftestant" on Food Network's "Chopped" reality show competition who was more passionate about cooking his best than with trying to win.

"Watching him really inspired me because, I think, when I think about winning it kind of distracts me a little bit," said Nagasu, who won silver at Cup of China and placed fifth at Skate Canada this fall.

"I really want to try and focus on just going out there and having fun and really trying my best."

The talented Nagasu brings charisma and speed to the ice, along with superb spins and powerful, if sometimes inconsistent, jumps. If she skates her best, her chances for gold at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, to be held in San Jose from Jan. 22-29, are right up there. But, considering some other things she shared on the call, it may be even more challenging than usual.

"Two weeks ago I was having trouble with my jumps," she said. "I don't know where they went. They just disappeared."

An "executive decision" from coach Frank Carroll -- he told her to change to a spare pair of boots -- solved the problem, Nagasu said. Still, she is not planning to add any triple-triple combinations to either of her Lori Nichol-choreographed programs, a Tango short and a free skate to music from the ballet Spartacus.

"I'm trying to work more on my [program] components this year to bring out the more delicate side of my skating and to concentrate on my musicality," she said.

"Missing out [on the Grand Prix] Final and competing against Carolina [Kostner], her jump repertoire is not as difficult without the triple Lutz, but even still her programs are amazing. I think if I put in that much effort into every single arm movement and every single pointed toe ... I guess I do fall a lot in my programs because I've been trying to concentrate more on my musicality."

Nagasu's casual assessment of her efforts stands in contrast to defending champion Alissa Czisny's measured approach [see below] and is in even starker relief to Ashley Wagner, who told late last month, "If I perform the way that I'm practicing, I'm going to be set. This is, I think, my nationals to lose."

The rather chaotic call, punctuated by a few lost cell phone signals and a lot of cross-discussion between reporters -- "What did she say? Chop?" -- reflects what sounds to be a unique training situation. Nagasu dialed into the teleconference while she and her mother, Ikuko, made the two-hour drive from Carroll's new training center in Cathedral City near Palm Springs, back home to Los Angeles.

"[I'm] heading into my second hour in the car and honestly it, it sucks," she said. "Well, usually I take a nap, so this is my nap time right now, but I'm kind of glad I have this interview because I don't really like taking naps. It's just like when I'm in the car, with the gentle bumps in the road I just tend to fall asleep. So thank you all for coming and driving with me, I guess."

Extra sleep aside, the two-way trip isn't practical every day. Nagasu also works with Rafael Arutunian at Carroll's former rink in Lake Arrowhead, and at least once a week with Galina Barinova in Artesia, home of the Kwan family facility, East West Ice Palace. When all else fails, and she and her mom don't feel much like driving, she skates at a newly opened rink in Pasadena.

"It's not the best [training] situation for me, but I'm making the best of it," Nagasu said.

Arutunian, who also coached Michelle Kwan and Mao Asada at times during their careers, is known as a technical coach, but Nagasu said his greatest strength is a keen sense of humor.

"The way he teaches me is just different from all my coaches, and I really enjoy that, and it's a lot of fun for me to work with him because he gets really into my lessons," she said. "I feel that when a coach is trying their best for me, I just try my best as well. It's an automatic reaction. I feel that a lot with Rafael, so I just really enjoy his lessons."

With Barinova, a former Russian prima ballerina, she works on polishing her programs.

"I've been working with Galina to bring out the balletic side of Spartacus," she said. "The Tango is a little bit more difficult for me because, I mean, it's hard for me to be sexy. And the Tango is a new side of me that I'm working on.

"It's fun to work with Galina because she sees that I'm embarrassed and shy about the expressions and the styles I have to try to incorporate into my skating. But at the same time, it's nice to push my boundaries."

So, is she satisfied with how her skating is going?

"I don't know how to answer that question," she said.

Likely, no one who took part in that call does. But considering past efforts, this seemingly light-hearted approach may be a strategy for Nagasu, who often performs best when less is expected of her. Last season, after a disappointing free skate put her third at the U.S. Championships and off the U.S. world team, she skated seasons' best programs at the 2011 Four Continents Championships.

And back to Madison Cowan, the Food Network cheftestant that kicked things off. He may have just focused on cooking his best, but he is also a "Chopped" champion.

Czisny regroups after injury-marred Grand Prix Final

Defending U.S. champion Alissa Czisny told reporters on her teleconference that her left foot and calf, injured during an early practice at the Grand Prix Final, are now "100 percent" heading into the U.S. Championships.

"Obviously the Grand Prix Final wasn't my best and I had the injury," Czisny said. (She placed fifth, and last, in Quebec City.) "I took a week off and slowly got back into training, to make sure it healed."

The jump she injured herself trying in practice, triple flip, is back in her repertoire, but contrary to early-season efforts, she will not try a triple-triple combination or triple Salchow in San Jose.

"I have six triples and two double Axels planned in my long program and double Axel-triple toe [combination] is in the long instead of a triple-triple," she said. "For the short program, we are keeping a triple [Lutz]-double [toe] and making it clean from there."

Czisny added that while a triple-triple might appear later this season, for San Jose she prefers to play it conservative. She has good reason: Only two U.S. ladies' spots at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships are up for grabs. Czisny had her best-ever showing at worlds last season, placing fifth.

"At the moment, I'm trying to just add what I can, to be able to go out and skate clean," she said.