Mirai Nagasu on 2018 routine and landing triple axel at Winter Olympics

The figure skating star sat down with Meryl Davis for the Olympic Channel Podcast on the first anniversary of PyeongChang 2018.

The triple axel is a big deal – especially in the United States.

After Tonya Harding became the first American woman to land the triple axel in competition in 1991, the world had to wait until 2018 to see a US woman land it at the Winter Olympic Games.

Figure skater Mirai Nagasu came away from PyeongChang 2018 with an Olympic bronze medal for her part in the team event but she’ll be remembered for landing the triple axel.

Tears behind triple axel triumph

The 25-year-old was passed over for Sochi 2014 and, at that point, she was done with figure skating.

“I did want to quit... I was super over it,” Nagusu said to the Olympic Channel podcast.

Instead of giving up, she changed coach and dedicated her life to the triple axel.

“I (find) the way someone responds (to adversity) is actually what I admire about them.”

Olympic champion (and friend) Meryl Davis sat down with Nagasu to talk about possible retirement, triple axels and the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Friends forever: Olympic medallists Mirai Nagasu and Meryl Davis
Friends forever: Olympic medallists Mirai Nagasu and Meryl DavisFriends forever: Olympic medallists Mirai Nagasu and Meryl Davis

Sochi 2014 heartache

Q. I remember you missing Sochi 2014 and, as a friend, I remember being so disappointed for you. It was a difficult situation. Can you take us back to that point?

In simple terms: it was rough. It wasn’t fun. In California, I am sure you know now you are a California resident, you drive a lot. And driving is when I let my emotions out a lot. And, I know cars aren’t sound proof, but I would be driving to the rink and all of a sudden I would listen to a song and just my emotions would hit me and I would be balling.

It was kind of therapeutic for me to get my emotions out. But, at the same time, it wasn’t just one good cry and then I was over it. It was many drives. It took years for me to become a better skater but I did want to quit skating.

I was super over it - Mirai Nagasu

I used to think when it initially happened. Like, ‘Woe is me. Nothing like this happens to anybody else. I deserve to sit here in my puddle of tears and cry.’ But, I started to look at other athletes’ careers… I found that it was the way someone responded was actually what I admired about them.

  • Team Event Women's Free Skating - Figure Skating | PyeongChang 2018 Replays

    Team Event Women's Free Skating - Figure Skating | PyeongChang 2018 Replays

  • Team Event Women's Short Program - Figure Skating | PyeongChang 2018 Replays

    Team Event Women's Short Program - Figure Skating | PyeongChang 2018 Replays

How to make a comeback

Q. How did you formulate a plan and really take those next steps?

I was asking the people around me, ‘What am I doing wrong? Why can't I make it? Why do I get to competition and mentally crumble? I thought I was mentally strong.’ And they would say their little piece and I would think I don’t think I really learned anything from that.

So, I asked coach Tom Zakrajsek for a lesson. And he took that for a try out for a coaching change. He says I said, 'I want to learn a triple axel. Teach it to me.' He didn't have girls – women - who were asking him to try jumps that most girls weren't willing to try.

Figure skating family

Q. Can you talk to me a little bit about the important relationships that you have built through your experiences though skating?

I think that skaters a kind of a rare breed in that we are a bit difficult to understand. I feel like (that’s the way in the) ladies especially with having to compete against each other… It is sometimes hard to take comments that (people) make well. But, at the same time, there is no one else going through that or the type of training where you are training every day.

Q. And no one quite understands the highs and the lows like the people who have been there. And so sharing this unspoken bond with people who get it is something that we will have for the rest of our lives.

Sometimes though, it is hard to feel that skating that is all you have… I have watched Michael Phelps do interviews and he was like, after the Olympics, ‘Swimming is all I knew and who I was as a person’. And that was depressing and scary and I’ve thought about that too. But I found an outlet for that. I continued my education to find out what I am good at. I am not going to be able to skate (professionally) for the rest of my life – (although) I will probably be that adult skater who will be there when I am like 80 years old… But, at the same time, I want to know what else I love.

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In 2014, I was left off the Olympic team which was a decision that left me devastated and heartbroken. I found myself in a place of anger, confusion, and most terrifyingly, self-deprecation. In making the decision to continue to compete, I decided that I was going to give my career the effort that I thought I needed to to make another team and then some, which to me, at the time, meant learning a new jump. I wanted to become a skater to whom the selection committee couldn’t say no. In 2016, I started to experience excruciating pains in my hip that reached all the way down my leg that at one point, didn’t allow me to straighten my knee. As an athlete in a sport that takes constant falls, pain isn’t an abnormality, so I thought that the pain would eventually go away. It did not and eventually, I found out that I had torn my labrum and had fractured part of my hip socket in the process of learning the triple axel. In that year, I was given two options: get surgery to repair it or try PRP. I was told that there was a high chance that I could repair my labrum with PRP if enough scar tissue would form in the socket. As a skater with Eastern origins, surgery was not something that I could commit to quickly. Because I had also never undergone surgery, my team wasn’t sure how long it would take me to recover so I eventually decided to maintain and keep a close eye on my injury. I also made this decision based on the fact that the more time I took off, the more time I was going to need to get back into fighting shape and I felt like I needed all the competitions I could have on my resume. I knew that making the Olympic team wasn’t going to be a trip of cotton candy and sprinkles but on some days, the pain and pressure were excruciatingly overwhelming. It also wasn’t something that I could easily share with anyone outside of my team because I saw this injury as a weakness. More importantly, I didn’t want the media to use it as an excuse as to why I didn’t compete well that day or a reason to leave me off the team again. #mythoughts #thoughts #thejourney #figureskating

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Injury update

Q. And taking the injury into account and the successes are you thinking about returning to competition? Is that something you are leaving open?

People keep asking me that but I am stuck in this jello like slowly, slowly recovering. It's hard to make a decision like that when I can't even do the elements. Even if I wanted to compete again my body is like, 'Hold up, girl. It's time for rest still.'

I feel like I am floating in jelly - Mirai Nigasu

And recovery is really difficult... It's been months now and I still can't do my triples... Mentally I am doing them but physically I am just not prepared and it's also just another thing to look at. Athletes like to rush back in and I have been really cautious of that.

Mirai Nagasu was this week’s guest on the Olympic Channel podcast.

We speak to athletes, and others involved in sport, about the biggest Olympic talking points.

The interview and questions were shortened to make them easier to read.

Head here for ways to listen and subscribe.

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