Mirai Nagasu: "This year has been such a learning experience"
January 8, 2011
By Titanilla Bőd
Photos © EMJO
She is graceful on the ice and very cute in person. She knows she still has to learn a lot to become a champion, but she concentrates on her goals and wants to do her best. She tries to take a lesson from everything that happens and says her coach is “not that scary” at all. Mirai Nagasu openly discussed her missed layback spin at the Trophee Eric Bompard, her great Olympic experience, as well as the possibility of learning the triple axel.
How would you comment on your competition in Paris? You won the silver medal.
I’m a little bit disappointed, to be honest, that I didn’t do my layback and my footwork wasn’t the level I wanted. But these are just little things I can fix. Even if I have won here, I wouldn’t have gone to the final, which was my goal this year. Things happen for a reason and now I’m so fired up to have a good Nationals and hopefully Worlds. I really want to go there, because it’s in Tokyo and my parents are Japanese heritage. The season is not over yet, even if I didn’t make it to the final. I have an advantage over the girls, I have more time to practice. So hopefully I’ll take advantage of that and just get back to work.
What happened during your layback spin?
Sometimes there are ruts and I just couldn’t get out of that rut, it kind of sucked me down and I couldn’t hold on to it. That was a lot of disappointing. I’m pretty proud of my layback, so hopefully things like this won’t happen again.
What were you thinking in that moment?
I said a few things to myself in my head, I was pretty mad at myself. But then I just counted to three, like one, two, three and was able to let it go and just kept going with the program. One element isn’t going to be the end of it, but if you let that affect you, it will be the end of it. Kiira showed it in the long program: she fell and she could still keep going. Strong competitors are always going to leave the mistakes behind. I have to work on that.
How hard is it for you to cope with your nerves, for example when you are in leading position?
I’m the worst with nerves! I get to the point when I feel like I’m singled out, the people are relying on me to do my job. I always forget that I’m here for myself. The audience is in here to watch my skating, but they are here to push me on and cheer me on. It’s hard to remember that. Here I was also able to remember that I love skating and I want to be here. Nerves are a good thing, because it shows that I want to be here and I want to do well, but champions are able to take control of that, and use it as an advantage. I still have to learn a lot about becoming a champion, but hopefully I’ll be able to become one of the greats.
Do you have any special technique to keep yourself calm?
I have to calm myself down. I like getting advice from people who are close to me. I’m my worst competitor, the negative thoughts always come from me, that’s why my coach is there for me, because he is the one who is able to pull me out of it, remind me how hard I practiced, why I’m there in that moment. I’ve come here for a long time, but I forget a lot of things, so I just have to get back into my competing mood, because I haven’t been skating a lot recently as I was injured. I’m just trying to get back into the flow of things, and I’ve learnt a lot here. I didn’t have the best skate in China, and here in France I had a much better skate. There are things I still have to work on. I think I’m going to go back and try to remember the things that I’ve learnt here about competing and stuff, so I can take it to Nationals.
When you were injured, was it hard physically or more psychologically?
It was everything. It was an injury that had been bothering me for a while and before Nationals two years ago I felt the same pain, but I got on MRI and the fracture didn’t show up, so a lot of people didn’t believe that I was hurt, and it kind of really hurt me, because I knew there was something. I was feeling a lot of pain, but I took a break and then it went away. Then I had the great Olympic year, a lot of things went well for me, but by Worlds it was hurting me again. I was training for the season and I was doing quite well, even though I had the pain, but I didn’t think it would show up again because I’d already had that pain, so I was trying to work with it. But it got to the point when couldn’t even jump any more it hurt so bad.
When I finally got on MRI again, it showed up this time. It was awful, because the doctors told me I had to get surgery, and I was like: no, no, no, no, no. Surgery, no. It was like a shock in my mind, because it takes much longer to recover. Not skating just blows your confidence away, because that’s what you’ve grown up doing everyday of your life and you rely on it for so many things. It’s not just something I love to do, but it’s also an exercise. You have to get exercise somehow and it’s a good thing that I like this kind of exercise because I’m awful, I’m just really bad at other sports. So, I just didn’t do anything. I hanged out with friends, but it’s not the same. In the background in my mind I was always thinking how everyone else is practicing, while I was here, just being lazy. I wanted to get out there and skate, but I couldn’t and it was really painful for me.
I thought about skating a lot, so when I was finally back on ice, I was super-excited to get back, but then I couldn’t do anything, it was awful. You want to be there, but you are like a bad skater, it’s just hard. So going into China I was really nervous, because I landed all my jumps a week before China, so it showed I was weak in China in my long program. I don’t even know how I pulled off my jumps in my short program. I guess I was a strong competitor in the short program, but mentally I wasn’t ready for the long program, so this year have been such a learning experience.
Tell me something about the Olympics, because it must have been also an unforgettable experience.
It’s amazing, especially since everything was so easy as it was in North America, so the flight was short, I could come back home after the opening ceremony to train. In Russia it’s going to be a lot harder, because there is a time difference, too, and in Canada there wasn’t any. The people spoke English there, so everything was in my favour and it was just up to me to get in the moment and take it. I’ve always wanted to medal at the Olympics, but it wasn’t meant to be. And Joannie had a really emotional program and I really wanted her to do her best. If I were in that situation I wouldn’t have been able to be strong. I just have a lot of great memories of the Olympics, it was like Disneyland, the happiest place on earth for me!
You listed on your website the skaters you admire and Mao Asada is also amongst them. Has your admiration to her changed somehow now that you compete against each other?
I’ve always admired Michelle Kwan and I’ve always admired Mao as well. She is the perfect definition of an athlete, because she is showing right now that she is in a bit of a slump, but she is working hard to get out of it. But athletes have their ups and downs, and she’ll definitely be back, because she is just a great athlete. It’s weird because I don’t know if I’m competing against her, because I feel like when you come to competition, you have to compete against yourself. It’s not speed skating, where you can trip the other skaters. There is no point in wishing her something bad, and I definitely don’t do that to my other competitors, I just come here to skate my best and do my job. Mao is just a great athlete, because she can do the triple axel. If I were in her situation, I wouldn’t even be here, so she is showing she is courageous as an athlete to just be here. I just wish her all the best.
You also practiced triple axel in the past. Do you still do it?
Not now, because I’m focusing on my programs and just getting back as a skater to where I used to be. I have to get back in my best form and I just keep improving. The triple axel can wait until summer, when I have time to not worry about competitions and stress and all that. The triple axel is a lot of fun, especially on the harness, when I don’t have to worry about falling, it’s a fun jump, but we have to work on other things first.
What is your relationship with your coach, Frank Carroll? He seems very strict.
He is both strict and nice. He is a great coach, because he has a good balance between discipline and he can still have fun. I really enjoy going to other countries with him, because he is a genius, he is so smart, he knows all the facts about everything. When we are going to places, he’ll always inform me about something. And he has a sense of humour, which is nice, so he is not always that scary. He is the best coach I’ve ever had, and if he agree, I definitely want him to take me to the end of my career.