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Nagasu ready for senior international debut

U.S. champ has specialized in surprises

2008 U.S. national champion Mirai Nagasu, will sit out junior worlds due to a lingering ankle injury.
2008 U.S. national champion Mirai Nagasu, will sit out junior worlds due to a lingering ankle injury. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(10/21/2008) - Mirai Nagasu is good at surprises. She won the U.S. junior ladies title in 2007 by upsetting heavy favorite Caroline Zhang and then pulled off an even bigger upset by winning the U.S. senior title in 2008. This week, Mirai, 15, makes her senior international debut at Skate America in Everett, Wash.

Coach Charlene Wong said she's anticipating a good debut but said to keep in mind, "This is the learning year." Choreographer Lori Nichol created two mature programs. Mirai, 15, performed her new short program, a medley of music from Charlie Chaplin films, and her new free skate, set to "Caprice Fantastique," "Fairy Tale and Devil's Beauties" and "Orpheus in the Underworld," before monitors last month, receiving positive feedback.

Training was curtailed a bit this summer due to a right ankle injury, but Mirai used the time to improve her composition and style. "She doesn't look like a girl that's a good skater. She looks like a young woman who belongs there," Wong said. "In Mirai's long program, she takes you through a variety of emotions."

Before heading north, Mirai took a few minutes to talk skating, competition, high school and Project Runway.

ICE: How are you feeling heading into Skate America?
MIRAI: Of course, I'm a little bit nervous, but other than that, I'm really excited. I have expectations of myself, but I don't have really demanding expectations. I just want to have fun and take the experience I can get from Skate America. I want to enjoy it as much as possible.

ICE: These new programs are different than anything you have ever skated before. In the short program, you're playing a character, Charlie Chaplin. Had you ever seen any Charlie Chaplin movies?
MIRAI: I have now. When I was in Canada, Lori had me watch all these movies. They're really funny, and I really enjoyed watching them. I went home and bought some, and I watch them a lot because I really like them. So they're always in my life now. He's really expressive. It's a good learning experience watching his movies.

ICE: The long program is a variety of music, and it's a whole different range of emotions. It shows the progression and the maturity in your skating. What are your thoughts on the long program?
MIRAI: It has a bit of a playful side, and it has slow music as well, which I'm used to skating to. I'm trying really hard to be more expressive in those areas. We'll see how it goes.

ICE: How is your ankle?
MIRAI: It still gives me trouble if I tap it wrong, but I wear ankle braces to keep it in place, so it's getting a lot better.

ICE: I see you like Project Runway. Who was your favorite?
MIRAI: I liked Kenley. I really like her. I disliked how the other designers banded together and went against Kenley. I know she could be rude at times, but I really liked her clothes and her personality. I liked Korto and Leanne also, but Kenley was my favorite.

People on the show said they were tired on her '50s look, but I really liked her '50s look. I really like her hair accessories. She always had fun hair accessories.

ICE: When you go to a competition like Skate America, do you get to see any local sights?
MIRAI: I'm not sure, but I think the hotel will be a sight to see because we're staying at a casino. I'm looking forward to that. I've been to Washington before for nationals in Spokane. The same year, I was also there for sectionals. It was really nice.

ICE: Have you set a goal for yourself, like top five?
MIRAI: Definitely, I'll be really disappointed if I get last place. Even if I do get last or first, it won't make a difference to me because I know that I am doing all that I can to compete at Skate America.

ICE: Any thoughts on your competitors?
MIRAI: I don't really consider that I'm competing against Yu-Na Kim and Miki Ando. I feel they're competing, and I'm there to take learning experience from it. It feels like they're cloud-nine people, and I'm trying my best to get to cloud nine as well.

ICE: Do you put away your medals from last year, or do you look at them and remember how it felt good to skate well?
MIRAI: They're put away because I don't want them to get dusty. Cleaning them takes a lot of work. I only get them out when people want to see them. Old medals are representative of your hard work, but you can't spend every day looking at them and remembering your past. You just have to keep going. That's a big thing I learned from [the movie] Music and Lyrics. The character of Alex Fletcher [played by Hugh Grant] is talking about how he used to be in a band in the past, but then his popularity went down. Then he realized he was not happy with his so-called former glories. I want to keep going up higher and higher, like on a staircase.

ICE: You go to a regular school, and you're in 10th grade, right?
MIRAI: I just took the PSATs. You can take it from freshman year at our school for practice. It was really hard.

ICE: I liked regular tests for class, but I hated standardized tests like the SATs.
MIRAI: I don't mind them. I like bubbling the answers.

ICE: What's your favorite subject?
MIRAI: I don't really have a favorite subject. I like the classes where my friends are. I like a little bit of each class. I really like art, and I'm a little disappointed I'm not taking art this year. Last year, I took ceramics. Maybe next year I'll find time.

ICE: We should contact Kenley and see if she can make you a costume.
MIRAI: That would be really nice.