6:20 PM EDT, April 6, 2012
After breaking the story of Mirai Nagasu leaving coach Frank Carroll in a tweet earlier this week, I wanted to fill in a few areas.
Nagasu did not respond to a text message. So I spoke with her agent, Yuki Saegusa of International Management Group, and here are a few things I learned:
*Nagasu will be working primarily with Wendy Olson, a coach for more than two decades. She has collaborated in the past with Carroll on the training of several skaters, but he no longer will have a role on Team Mirai.
*She is taking art classes at Pasadena City College to get her mind off skating.
*Her future collaboration with choreographer Lori Nichol is uncertain because Nagasu's poor results this season have led to a cut in her funding from U.S. Figure Skating.
*She still is committed to the sport.
Nagasu, who turns 19 in 10 days, was the 2008 U.S. champion and the highest U.S. women's finisher at the 2010 Olympics (fourth). Since the Olympics, her skating has progressively deteriorated: last season, she lost a spot on the world team by utterly botching a simple element in her free skate and finishing third at the U.S. Championships; this season, she was a non-competitive seventh at nationals, a whopping 24 points behind winner Ashley Wagner.
"Last year, she was devastated by not qualifying for worlds," Saegusa said. "This year, she was just mad.
"I asked her recently if she still loved to skate and told her there was no reason to continue if she didn't. She said she still loved it and wanted to do it - but closer to home. Now I want her to prove it."
Carroll became increasingly frustrated with Nagasu's work habits the last two years.
"There are days you think this kid is the greatest skater there ever has been," Carroll told me before the 2012 nationals. "And others you want to say, 'Would you just get your act together?'''
But logistics played the major part in ending their professional relationship.
When Carroll stopped coaching at the Toyota Sports Center near Los Angeles airport and moved to a rink in Cathedral City so he could be closer to his home in Palm Springs, it left Nagasu (and her mother, who drove) with a four-hour commute two days a week. She worked with a variety of other coaches (and trained some days on her own) at rinks closer to her home in Arcadia the other days.
Nagasu told me earlier this year that her mother would not let her live on her own near Cathedral City and that such an arrangement would have taxed the family's finances in any case.
Nagasu burst onto the scene when she upset Caroline Zhang for the U.S. junior title in 2007. (They reversed the order of finish a month later at the World Junior Championships). Two years later, she was struggling with a foot injury and self-confidence, but Nagasu got her mojo back in the first year working with Carroll.
Ironically, Zhang's career hit the rocks after 2009, when she finished third at nationals. She looked utterly lost while finishing 11th and 12th at the next two nationals and wasn't even included in this season's U.S. Figure Skating media guide.
But Zhang made a stunning turnaround in 2012, finishing fourth at nationals and third at the Four Continents Championships, leaving Nagasu in her wake like two ships passing in the night.
"Mirai was terribly unhappy," Carroll said via telephone this week. "She was unhappy in skating and in life."
Carroll, who had been Nagasu's coach since May, 2009, feels the commute was a big part of the problem.
"There was no problem between us as people," he said. "The two-hour drive each way was too much. She was exhausted by the time she got here."
Her new training rink, Pickwick, is about a 30-minute drive from her home.
"I hope this is the answer for Mirai," Carroll said. "What we all want is what is best for this kid."
Everyone does, because Nagasu has one of the most delightful personalties in the sport.
She is funny, unafraid to say whatever comes into head, self-critical to a fault, part ditzy teenager and part insightful young woman. This is what she told me about being the only child of Japanese-American parents who emphasize the traditional values of their Asian upbringing:
"Because I have been raised by Asian parents in an American culture, I struggle a little bit with balancing the two," she said.
"Sometimes my parents want to push me harder and want me to work harder. They will say something is not good enough, and it gets into my mind that it is not good enough, and it does bother me. But my emotions also make me the passionate skater I am."
That passion was completely missing at January's U.S. Championships, when Nagasu clearly was going through the motions.
Something had to change.
For better or for worse, it did.
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