Young star Nagasu has priorities in order


The kanji in her first name means “future” and it is looking pretty bright for the young American skater with the Japanese name.

News photo
Mirai Nagasu speaks with The Japan Times in an interview during her recent visit to Japan.

Mirai Nagasu, born to Japanese parents in Southern California, recently participated in her first competitive event in her ancestral homeland when she skated for the United States in the U.S.-Japan International Counter Match at Shin-Yokohama Arena.

The 14-year-old phenom from Arcadia, Calif., who has already won two Junior Grand Prix events this season (in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Zagreb), was part of a youthful American team that defeated their veteran Japanese female counterparts in the one-day contest that kicked off the senior 2007-08 skating season.

Performing her new free program to “Coppelia,” the charming Nagasu saw both ends of the spectrum in just 3 minutes and 40 seconds on the ice. She opened with a beautiful spiral sequence, but fell while attempting a triple salchow and again later on a combination jump.

But so it goes early in the season, when skaters are trying to get used to the new programs that have been choreographed for them. Though she lost her head-to-head battle with fellow junior skater Rumi Suizu, Nagasu was philosophical about the setback.

“I was a little bit disappointed because I was a bit tired coming from a competition in Croatia,” Nagasu said during an interview. “I don’t want to use any excuses, but I hope to come back and have a better skate. I have learned many lessons from this competition and I am going to take them and work with them.”

Nagasu, the reigning U.S. national junior champion, put on a much better showing in the following day’s exhibition gala, when she was clearly more relaxed and skated an energetic routine to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” that impressed the capacity crowd on hand.

She displayed dexterity both on and off the ice, as she answered in Japanese all of the questions the local media threw at during her trip here.

“I went to a kind of Japanese preschool called Kodomo No Ie (Children’s Home). After that my parents told me to pick between Japanese and skating, because skating is so time consuming. I really wanted to skate, so all of the Japanese I know (now) is from home.”

The freshman at Arcadia High School notes, however, that she is brushing up on the native language of her parents.

News photoSublime spiral: Mirai Nagasu performs at the recent U.S.-Japan International Counter Match in Yokohama.

“Now that I have started high school, I am taking Japanese class.”

Nagasu, who is coached by Charlene Wong, says her biggest challenge as a skater is “to keep improving.”

With her two Junior Grand Prix events already completed, next up on teen’s schedule is the Junior Grand Prix Final in Gdansk, Poland, in early December.

Nagasu, who is expected to contend for a medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, says that though she is focused on skating now, college is definitely in her future.

“Education is more important than skating. I want to keep up with my schoolwork and my skating.”

The 150-cm Nagasu, who trains two hours a day before school, said she idolized another Asian-American skater while growing up.

“Michelle Kwan was an inspiration for everyone, including me. Recently, I’m looking up to all of the top skaters — Miki Ando and Mao Asada and Yu Na Kim.

“Also the men, because they have qualities I want to take. They have really high jumps. Daisuke Takahashi has really good footwork.”

Though she skates under the banner of the Stars and Stripes, it is not out of the question that one day Nagasu may take the ice for the Hinomaru. With dual citizenship until the age of 21, she would be eligible to do so if she ever got the notion.