Eight years have passed since the last time Mirai Nagasu has touched Olympic ice. For a female skater, that’s remarkable longevity. Ten years have passed since Nagasu won her first and only national title.
Then again, she was just 16 in Vancouver. She performed last in the free skate and ultimately finished fourth.
“No one can take away the fact that – although I haven’t won my title back yet – I’ve been a medalist and a top contender for the last 10 years [on the national level],” Nagasu said on a recent teleconference with members of the media. “That’s because people have pushed me and I’ve pushed myself. That’s a long time to be at the top of the game.”
In the run-up to PyeongChang 2018, she’s gained more maturity and perspective. She took over her career and moved to Colorado, and she’s weathered more adversity and came out stronger because of it.
“Being named to the Olympic team has special meaning to it because I feel like I’ve come full circle,” Nagasu said. “It was really, really heartbreaking to not be named to the team in Sochi, but some things are just not meant to be. That experience changed me as a skater. I took a step back and decided that some things are not worth accepting. I wanted to be on another Olympic team. I took time to evolve myself as a person and as a skater.”
Nagasu earned a spot on the 2018 Olympic team by virtue of her silver medal at the recent national championships. The only hiccup in the plan to make it to PyeongChang was coming down with the flu as soon as she returned home from nationals in San Jose, she mentioned on an episode of the podcast Ice Talk.
Part of what’s made her a stronger this year in particular has been doubling down to learn a new jump later in her career: the triple Axel. The jump is elusive in the ladies’ event. For example, the only two U.S. women to land it besides Nagasu were Tonya Harding (1991) and Kimmie Meissner (2005).
“I don’t think I would’ve worked as hard on the triple Axel if I hadn’t had that time [after Sochi] to concentrate and decide to,” Nagasu said, noting that the plan is to go for the jump in both the short and long programs in PyeongChang. “It was a conscious decision to make a comeback – even though I hadn’t taken a break.”
There’s an audible new aspect to her training, as well. After Nagasu’s three dogs are finished destroying their toys, she up-cycles the squeakers from the inside and wedges them into her skating boots. When she rotates in the air and gets her feet snapped together, she can hear the noise.
“The squeak is really satisfying,” she said.
(Her dogs won’t be traveling to PyeongChang, but she said Lincoln was a hit with skaters at nationals in January.)
Nothing will feel old hat for Nagasu at her second Games. She wants to make sure to take the time to get out of her own bubble. In Vancouver, Nagasu went home in between the Opening Ceremony and her event. This time, she wants to make it a point to soak it all in and watch other events live.
Additionally, the Olympics have introduced the figure skating team event since Nagasu last competed at the Games.
“I would love to be in the team event, Nagasu said. “Something that I saw in Sochi that I didn’t get the opportunity to have in Vancouver was the team holding hands with arms in the air and medals around their neck. I’m a solo skater; the sport can be lonely. I would really like to have that opportunity.”
One of the constants in Nagasu’s career has been her family’s support. Her parents own a restaurant but will close for a week to be able to come see her compete.
“My parents are more excited than I am,” Nagasu said. “They will not stop calling me about things that they get to see and things they get do to. My dad, as the owner and sushi chef at the restaurant, that restaurant is his baby. And his life dream. For him to close the restaurant even for a week, and to come watch me skate, it means the world to me.”