Mirai Nagasu, the 14-year-old figure skating sensation, will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center this January 20-27, 2008. Nagasu is among 21 competitors for the Senior’s Ladies title. Among them is the well-known champion, Caroline Zhang, Karen Zhou and Beatrisa Liang.
After four years of local and regional competitions, Nagasu’s defining moment was wining the 2007 Junior U.S. Championships, followed by a second place finish at the World Junior Championships. This energized the young skater to take first place at the Grand Prix in Croatia, and again at the Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid. This qualified her as one of 18 U.S. skaters to earn a spot to skate earlier this month at the International Skating Union’s Junior Grand Prix in Gdansk, Poland.
“Right now I just came back from the Junior Grand Prix finals and have a lot of experience behind my back,” said Nagasu.
Though she continues to skate as a Junior at the international level, Nagasu will now skate at the senior level in American competition. This is not as big a leap as from Novice to Junior, where her training changed considerably, and the results showed when she won first at her Regional competition in Spokane Washington last year as a Junior.
“It was really exciting to come out and win it,” said Nagasu. “It was one of the most of unexpected things to happen to me.”
Nagasu credits much of her sudden success to Charlene Wong, her new private coach at the Pasadena Figure Skating Club. She also trains with club teachers, Sashi Kuchiki, Sondra Holmes, Bob Paul, Jim Yorke and choreographer Lori Nichol. Wong has also coached Amber Corwin, an American skater who has done very well in international competition.
In women’s single figure skating competition, Senior skaters present a short and a long program. The short program lasts 2 minutes and 40 seconds and requires the skater to complete a series of technical elements (jumps, spins, combinations and rotations). The Junior programs are slightly shorter but not much less demanding and Nagasu uses the same music.
The long program (free skate) lasts 4 minutes, and the skater has more freedom to display their strongest skills and artistic style. Performing more difficult technical requirements will mean a better the score – but that can also be risky when in close competition with other skaters.
Both the long and short programs are set to music. For her short program, Nagasu will skate to “I Got Rhythm” (variations for Piano and Orchestra by George Gershwin arranged by Fazil Say). For her long program, she will skate to “Coppelia” by Delibes.
Nagasu, who enjoys ballet, art and piano, along with her healthy dose of pop music, says the music fuses her passion with the difficult training, so that she can “work hard, and have fun” while she is skating.
This will be Nagasu’s first time in Minnesota, and her second time competing as a Senior at the U.S. National’s. At age 14 and just 4’11”, Nagasu wants to repeat her strong showing and place high with her Senior level routine.
“This will be the first time that I am competing against all the Senior skaters, which is very exciting for me,” she said.
Nagasu keeps the pressure at bay by putting it all into perspective. She knows that if she trains hard and keep her goals simple and has fun while she is skating, then she will not be disappointed with her performance and placement. She has learned from her past mistakes and how to use her nerves to get excited to perform at her best.
“I have to stay in my own zone and my nerves help me even though don’t like feeling butterflies in my stomach,” she said. “I am just going to go out there and do my thing and I am going to have fun. I just want the best experience out of National’s this year as I can.”
Nagasu was born in Montebello, California. Her Japanese immigrant parents manage a small sushi restaurant in town. She began skating at the age of five when rain prevented an outdoor family outing, and the family decided to try ice skating indoors. She took to skating immediately and began lessons soon after.
“I really like the feel of the ice, and feel like I am so free out there,” she said. “When I am on the ice I just let myself go and enjoy – it is so graceful.”
These days, she is up at least six days a week at 6:00 a.m. to train before school at 8:00 a.m., then home at 3:00 p.m. By the time she does her homework, chores and has dinner, its time for bed.
That does not leave much time to have fun, but the love of skating and the results in competition make all of the sacrifices worth the effort.
“I’ve always loved skating and I hope to keep skating with passion and to keep it fun,” she said.
Skating competitions mean that she has to miss classes and spends a lot of time catching up. After completing middle school, Nagasu considered home schooling to deal with the heavy burden of training and competition. Yet, she also appreciated school life and her good friends that keep her centered. In the end, she decided to a public high school.
Nagasu is an avid reader and an honors student and she used to take a lot of her homework along on figure skating competitions. She found that this would distract from her concentration, and so makes homework her first priority upon returning home.
“Most of the time, the week after competing is always the hardest to make up the homework,” she added. “My parents disciplined me very well, and an education is just as important to me as my skating – so I try to do the best I can.”
Nagasu says the support of her parents, friends and her school have made all the difference. She is not sure where skating will take her after high school, but she would like to eventually skate with the professional skating tours.
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, held annually since 1914, is the nation’s most prestigious figure skating event. The competition will be nationally televised live on NBC. Over the course of a week the event will crown 12 national champions in ladies, men’s, pairs and ice dancing on the senior, junior and novice levels. The seven-day event is expected to draw over 125,000 fans and have an economic impact in excess of $30 million.
For the first time in years, all 27 competitions, including those on the novice and junior level, will take place in one competition venue – the Xcel Energy Center. The shift to one competition venue will allow all-event ticket holders the ability to see all competitive events in one venue and eliminate any possibility of missing any on-ice action due to conflicting events or transportation between venues.
Single-session, all-event and championship weekend ticket packages for the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on January 20-27, 2008 are on sale now at the Xcel Energy Center Box Office or online at www.saintpaul2008.com.