Olympic exclusion serves as motivation for NagasuU.S. bronze medalist excited to embark on second 'Stars on Ice' tour
In a quiet spot backstage at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Mirai Nagasu sat devastated, wondering what her skating future might hold, having just lost a shot at competing at the Olympics.
Then along came Brian Boitano.
"He only talked to me for a moment, but he came by and told me that he knew things were hard at the moment, but he also knew I would be stronger because of it," Nagasu said. "He might not even remember what he said, but it really meant a lot. I don't know if he'll ever really know how much that meant."
Nagasu has made Boitano's simple words her mantra.
Her journey from then to now has continued to be one without a clear road map, but despite her apparent lack of direction, she said she has no intentions of leaving the sport anytime soon. She went from Boston to Chinese Taipei to compete at the Four Continents Championships, then spent time in California creating programs for the upcoming season (using Adam Rippon as her choreographer) and later landed in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she trained alongside good friend Agnes Zawadzki and coach Tom Zakrajsek.
On Friday, Nagasu will perform in Fort Myers, Fla., in the first of 20 shows for Stars on Ice (SOI). She is scheduled to skate two programs on the tour, one to On Golden Pond, to which she skated in the gala in Boston, and another to a cover version of the Imagine Dragons song "Demons."
She is excited about the two programs she and Rippon crafted for the upcoming season and is looking forward to unveiling them in competition. Her ultimate goal is to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2018.
Still, the devastation of not making it to Sochi lingers.
"Absolutely," Nagasu said when asked if she was upset about being left home after finishing third at the U.S. championships. "I don't think I'll ever agree with the decision that they made. But as I said in my statement at nationals, I can only respect the decision made by the federation.
"After nationals, it was really hard, and I didn't know how to handle everything," Nagasu added. "Then I got sick right after nationals, and that hindered my performance at Four Continents (where she placed 10th). During the Olympics, I still had to keep skating because I really thought I might be asked to compete at worlds.
"But I found that I really still enjoy skating. I'm not really committed to anything yet, but I hope that I can skate for myself."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Nagasu's time in Boston was that she managed to maintain her composure while controversy was swirling around her. Not only did she perform an exhibition routine just hours after learning she would not go to Sochi, but, as a past Olympian, she was invited to and attended a send-off party that evening for the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.
"If I were in any of their places, I would've wanted the past Olympians to do that for me," Nagasu said. "Olympians are supposed to be role models, and I felt it was really important for them to have those role models there."
She also made a point of texting Ashley Wagner, who some felt should have been left off the Olympic team in favor of Nagasu, to wish her good luck.
"I felt really bad for her," Nagasu said. "I really appreciate that the fans were there for me, but I felt that if I were in her situation, I would want someone to support me. No one deserves a death message."
Nagasu was in California during the Olympics, and she said she did watch some of the competition on TV.
"Just to watch it was bittersweet, but it was definitely motivating at the same time," she said.
Nagasu tried to put a silver lining on things, saying that she took advantage of the time she had in February and March to create competitive programs for the upcoming season. She enjoyed working with Zakrajsek but said she has not been ready to commit to any coach as of yet.
"Tom has great technique, and Colorado Springs is a great training center," Nagasu said. "I had a lot of fun there, and they knew how to get me to train hard. The Colorado kids really welcomed me, and Agnes and I had a really good time together."
Nagasu said it helped being around Zawadzki, a two-time U.S. bronze medalist who also hoped to make the U.S. Olympic team but placed a disappointing 11th in Boston.
"She could relate, and she's just a really nice person all around," Nagasu said. "She's a great shopping partner."
As for where and with whom Nagasu will train, that remains uncertain. She parted ways with coach Amy Evidente not long before the U.S. championships. In the run-up to that event, she trained a bit in Japan and in Scottsdale, Ariz. She did not have a primary coach at her side in Boston, but Galina Baranova was there for her in the kiss and cry.
"I decided not to bring a main coach with me to nationals, and it was kind of hurtful to me when people said that I didn't have a coach," Nagasu said. "I flew to Japan to work with coaches. I know I might be sassy at times, but I'm not an uncontrollable force. I listen to people."
Through it all, Nagasu said her parents have been there for her.
"My parents have always been really supportive of my skating," Nagasu said. "I've learned that blood is thicker than water, that's for sure. They were really confused by the decision, but I have been able to accept it now."
What is making Nagasu smile now is the fact that she will be on the SOI tour, skating in a cast that features Olympic ice dance gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, as well as several other U.S. Olympians.
The last time Nagasu was part of this tour, she was 17.
"I had to do schoolwork," she said with a laugh. "I was young, and I missed home. This time, I'm turning 21 on the tour (April 16). This time, I'm excited. And I'm looking forward to performing. After that, I think I will deserve a nice vacation."
ICE CHIPS - U.S. champion Gracie Gold went from the world championships in Japan to Florida to prepare for SOI. Shortly before she went to worlds, Scott Brown spent a week with her in Los Angeles to get her exhibition program ready. She will be skating to the tremendously popular theme song from the Disney movie Frozen, "Let It Go." "I think it will be wonderful for the tour," Brown said. "It's fun for her and for the audience." Brown, who has worked with Gold for four years and persuaded Frank Carroll to be the skater's primary coach, believes the tour will provide a "great opportunity" for Gold to improve on her performance skills and ability to relate to audiences. "She's always been a good jumper, but there's always a balance when you're developing the technical and the artistry," Brown said. "She needs this experience."