Mirai began skating at age five because her parents took her ice skating on a rainy day when she couldn’t play golf. The Nagasus own a small sushi restaurant in Arcadia, Calif., (“The food is just as good as the Beverly Hills restaurants,” says Mirai) and her family has struggled financially. When asked in 2007 what size clothes she wore, Mirai said she didn’t know because most of her clothes were secondhand. Three-time U.S.
Mirai began skating at age five because her parents took her ice skating on a rainy day when she couldn’t play golf. The Nagasus own a small sushi restaurant in Arcadia, Calif., (“The food is just as good as the Beverly Hills restaurants,” says Mirai) and her family has struggled financially. When asked in 2007 what size clothes she wore, Mirai said she didn’t know because most of her clothes were secondhand. Three-time U.S. Michael Weiss and his foundation, which Weiss developed to assist promising skaters with financial need, supported Mirai with a scholarship before she was a well-known skater. The Nagasus are Japanese nationals (Mirai has dual citizenship until she turns 22) and is working on her Japanese. “Hopefully by the time I’m 18 I’ll be fluent and can read and write it too,” she says.
In her first senior nationals Mirai portrayed the story of a doll coming to life set to music from Léo Delibes’ Coppelia, a fitting program for the then-78 lb, 4-foot-11 14-year-old. The performance was marred only by a fall on her opening double Axel. “Honestly, I had no idea what she was going to do,” then-coach Wong said. “But I knew that whatever she went for was going to be a defining moment in her career. Either she was going to be a fighter or she was going to buckle.” Mirai nailed her second jumping pass, a triple-triple combination and executed the rest of her program without any major mistakes to become the second youngest U.S. champion (Tara Lipinski remains the youngest).
Mirai let her “stubborn, independent” streak trump the advice of her coaches and doctors, competing through the season despite an injured ankle. “I pushed hardest when my foot was bothering me the most,” Mirai says now, looking back. “I thought that the pain was something I could overcome.” She also dealt with, in her words, “teenage adolescence,” a growth spurt (she’s now 5-foot-3) and increased academic demands as – “some nights I had to go sleepless so I didn’t have energy to skate” All of these challenges culminated into a disappointing season for Mirai, just a year removed from her improbable win at the 2008 Nationals.
Mirai declined to compete at the 2008 World Junior Championships and spent a month completely off the ice. She still tapes her ankle before practice, uses arch supports in her skates and ices it frequently afterwards. She’s also resumed daily ballet class, which she feels enhances her strength and balance. “Now my ankle doesn’t turn in every time I jump,” Mirai says.
Until May 2009, Mirai had a seven-member coaching staff, with Canadian Olympian Charlene Wong leading the troupe. She’s since switched coaches to Frank Carroll, coach of 2009 world champion Evan Lysacek. Carroll also currently coaches Italy’s Carolina Kostner, a former European champion and coached Michelle Kwan to four of her five world titles (Kwan and Carroll parted ways in 2001).
ASIANCE: What is a typical day like for you now with the Olympics coming?
Mirai: I still wake up at 7am, get to the rink by 9am. I skate. Then I go to the second rink. (laughs) Actually, sometimes I get lazy and I don’t stop by the first rink. Sometimes I just skate two sessions at the skate center with Mr. Carroll. Then I have lunch, so I get a break in between. It’s just an honor working with Evan and Frank because I train the same as I’ve done for the last couple of years, except it’s just more intense.
ASIANCE: Are people recognizing you more now?
Mirai: No not at all, which is totally fine. I mean it would be cool if I could be as famous as Michael Jackson but being able to walk the streets is nice too. I better enjoy it because I want to become more famous.
ASIANCE: Are you nervous for the Olympics?? Do you have any kind of “pregame ritual” that you do before you skate?
Mirai: Not really. My mom always feeds me this Japanese pork cutlet. It’s called Kutsu. Kutsu means “to win”. That’s her good luck thing for me.
ASIANCE: What was your favorite performance?
Mirai: Nationals so far is my favorite performance because I think I grew a lot in my skating. I actually remember most of it, so I know what I have to work on so I like these past Nationals the best.
ASIANCE: Obviously you need to watch out for Japan’s Mao Asada and Korea’s Kim Yu-na
Mirai: Regardless how they skate, I have to skate my best. I’m going to the Olympics for myself. It’s a battle between myself and I. A lot of people are telling my how important the Olympics are but in reality it’s just another competition except the whole world is going to be watching. I’m trying to focus on training every day and just let the chips fall where they fall. I hope everyone skates well. It’s just hopefully I’ll win.
ASIANCE: How is your ankle?
Mirai: My ankle is doing fine. I have no injuries. I’m just really sore because my trainer got me a Wii. He said if I made it to the Olympics he would get me one. Now my arms are sore.
ASIANCE: What are you playing on that?
Mirai: Well I only have Wii sports right now but my family and I fight over who gets the controller. We play tennis.
ASIANCE: Did you ever meet Kristi Yamaguchi?
Mirai: Yes she is really nice. She’s definitely a role model. She’s very down to earth.
ASIANCE: She’s covering the Olympics right?
Mirai: Yes, I think it’s good since she knows so much about skating it’s good that she is covering it. She’ll know to give us our personal spaces.
ASIANCE: What would you say to girls who want to be where you are today?
Mirai: I would tell them to dream big and just try your best.
ASIANCE: What athletes are you looking forward to seeing at the Olympics?
Mirai: I watch a lot of Universal Sports lately. I’ve seen a lot of Apolo Anton Ohno, especially on commercials. I can’t wait to watch him. I think it’s pretty hard to get tickets, even though athletes credentials work we have to sing up separately for tickets. Security is really tight. So hopefully we’ll get to watch.
ASIANCE: My dad talks about him a lot because he dad worked really hard for him as a hairstylst.
Mirai: And the dad doesn’t have to work anymore because Apolo is doing really well. So I want to do that for my parents as well.
ASIANCE: Do you follow any other athletes?
Mirai: I like watching Michael Phelps and I like watching swimming in general, because it really easy for spectators to watch. Whoever is the fastest wins. I think it’s funny he has a commercial on Subway and he’s heading towards the Vancouver mountains but he’s not competing in the Vancouver Olympics. I love it!
ASIANCE: Who’s designing your skating outfits!?
Mirai: Cecil Phillips is my dress designer. She does a really good job so that it’s flexibleand moves with my body. One is designed by Kay Evans. She’s in Colorado. It’s hard I don’t know how she does it but she makes it fit to my body.
ASIANCE: What’s your favorite dish at your parents’ Japanese restaurant?
Mirai: I like everything my dad makes but my favorite is the tempura ice cream because it’s fried, yummy ice cream. It’s fried, and I love ice cream. But I’m never allowed to have it because it’s fattening.
ASIANCE: Maybe after the Olympics?
Mirai: Hopefully! My mom and I like cheesecake better so hopefully, we’ll have that.
ASIANCE: I heard you’re saving up for a car? Any idea which one?
Mirai: I don’t have my license yet. I’m actually really lazy because it takes an hour to get to the rink so I like sitting in the back for now and letting my mom do all the hard work.
I would appreciate any car I get. I don’t get an allowance so I can’t save up.
ASIANCE: If you weren’t skating what would you be doing?
Mirai: If I weren’t skating I would be a nerd! I think it’s cool!
The photo credit is: NBC / USOC