No figure skating judge has ever judged Mirai Nagasu as harshly as she seems to judge herself.
Nagasu, 16, and in her junior year at Arcadia High School, is introspective and self-deprecating to an unusual degree. When she made errors last season, she'd describe that as giving in to her dark side; on today, speaking at the U.S. Olympic Committee's media summit, she called the sport in which she excels "a burden I like," and said she sometimes resorts to golf when she needs "an excuse to hit something" and relieve her stress.
Exactly how much stress should so young a girl have been feeling, especially after winning the 2008 U.S. title and enchanting judges and fans with her grace and spirit?
Apparently, she felt a lot of stress last season, when she was trying to deal with a foot injury and fight philosophical battles with her coach, Charlene Wong. Nagasu insisted on competing through the injury while Wong urged her to rest. An obviously hurting Nagasu finished fifth at the U.S. championships and missed a berth on the world team at the World Championships, which were held at Staples Center. This summer, she left Wong for Frank Carroll and trains at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, often on the same ice as men's world champion Evan Lysacek.
Nagasu became emotional today in discussing her travails and acknowledged in a quavering voice that she had considered quitting the sport.
"There are always moments when I think about leaving skating, but when I think about that I'm not very smart and I'm not very pretty and there's nothing else that stands out about me besides my skating," she said, though she certainly comes across as bright and funny and is unquestionably attractive.
"So it's like the love of my life. It's like loving someone. You want to break up sometimes but if you get past those hardships everything will come together."
Nagasu said she settled on Carroll, who coached Michelle Kwan for nearly a decade and this season is also coaching former European champion Carolina Kostner of Italy, after consulting with choreographer Lori Nichol.
"I really wasn't sure what to do because I really liked Charlene but some of the decisions, she and I disagreed with," Nagasu said. "I disagreed with the reactions she had to them, especially at nationals, about how she told me that she was against how I skated. But before that she told me she supported me no matter what, so I felt it was like a stab in the back. I felt a change was needed. I felt that Mr. Carroll was just what I needed.