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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    U.S. teenage skaters are ready to fight for their dreams

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It had gotten ugly outside B.C. Place.

    The four hour wait for the 2010 Olympic Games opening ceremony had turned the U.S. athlete delegation into a red, white and blue mosh pit and figure skaters Rachael Flattand Mirai Nagasu, weighing maybe two bucks between them, were not backing down.

    “”Basically, it was a fight,”” Nagasu said laughing as she recalled the battle for position in the U.S. parade line. “”A lot of pushing and shoving, because we all wanted to be at the front.””

    Flatt, 17, and Nagasu, 16, take a similar mindset into Tuesday night’s Olympic women’s skating competition, determined to push their way onto the medal podium after Thursday night’s free skate.

    “”Mirai and I,”” Flatt said, “”are both incredibly excited to go out there and kick some butt.””

    “”Bring it one, it’s all or nothing,”” Nagasu said. “”It’s just Rachael and me, and we’re going to blow them away.””

    Despite Nagasu and Flatt’s youth exuberance these are the first Olympic Games in five decades that the U.S. women’s roster doesn’t include a top medal contender and the teenage duo will find working their way through a field that includes South Korea’s Yu-Na Kim, the 2009 World champion and overwhelming favorite, Japan’s Mao Asada andMiki Ando and Joannie Rochette of Canada much more difficult than their good natured opening night skirmish.

    “”Being the heavy favorite is not always a good thing because the amount of pressure and it is the Olympics so the whole world is watching,”” Nagasu said. “”So I’ll just stand next to Yu-Na and while she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, I’ll just be holding it up with a finger.””

    Nagasu and Flatt will, however, bear the burden of keeping alive the U.S. streak of 11 consecutive Olympic Games with a women’s skating medal, a string that most in the American skating community at best are cautiously optimistic about extending in Vancouver.

    “”There’s always a chance,”” said Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion now a NBC analyst, sounding not all that convincing. “”American women have always been well represented at the world level and I think they’re going to be well represented (in Vancouver) too. A lot of things can happen.””

    “”We don’t have a Michelle Kwan or Kristi Yamaguchi to lead us on,”” Nagasu said, “”but I feel that even though we’re young we have big dreams to lead us on and that’s what motivates us.””

    Flatt and Nagasu have pursued those dreams with different approaches from different places, contrasts that mirror their backgrounds and skating styles.

    “”One is a great athlete, one is an artist,”” said Frank Carroll, who coaches Nagasu along with Olympic men’s champion Evan Lysacek.

    Flatt, Hamilton said, is a skater who “”punched her time clock every moment. She’s consistent and solid. You can depend on her.””

    Flatt’s athleticism and consistency were both evident in her record-setting at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane last month. Yet it was Nagasu’s artistry that drew the loudest ovation in Spokane and convinced many in the arena, including Hamilton, that she had delivered the winning program.

    “”I got caught up in the performance,”” Hamilton admitted.

    Flatt is the daughter of a molecular biologist and biochemistry engineer. The family, formerly of Del Mar, Calif., now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Flatt is an honor student at Cheyenne Mountain High with a full academic load including four advanced placement courses. She has applied to StanfordPrincetonHarvardYaleDuke,DartmouthJohns HopkinsDenver and UCLA.

    “”Hopefully, (college admissions offices) will take this into account,”” Flatt said laughing referring to her Olympic experience.

    On skating matters Flatt confides in mentor Dorothy Hamill, the 1976 Olympic champion. Hamill was even alongside Flatt on the bus ride from their hotel to the U.S. championships free skate.

    “”I think she was more nervous than I was,”” Flatt said.

    While Flatt’s climb to the Olympics has been steady, Nagasu has taken a more adventurous path to Vancouver.

    After winning the 2008 U.S. title at just 14 she was immediately anointed the heir apparent to her idols, Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen. Instead she had a tearful collapse at the 2009 U.S. championships unable overcome injuries and expectations. She drifted into what she describes as the “”dark side,”” and even considered quitting the sport.

    “”There are always moments that I think about leaving skating,”” Nagasu said. “”But I’m not very smart and I’m not very pretty and there’s nothing else that stands out about me besides my skating. It’s like loving someone. You want to break up sometimes but if you get past those hardships, everything will come together.””

    In the spring of 2009, she left longtime coach Charlene Wong for Carroll, who guided Kwan to the first four of her five World titles.

    Carroll repaired both Nagasu’s skating and her psyche, training partner Lysacek also helping rebuild her confidence. While Hamill was riding shot gun with Flatt in Spokane, Lysacek was sending Nagasu text messages.

    “”You have to believe,”” read one.

    Nagasu’s parents own Kiyosuza, a Japanese restaurant in Arcadia, Calif., whose menu features the Mirai Nagasu sushi roll.

    “”The Mirai sushi roll has basically the whole ocean in one roll,”” said its namesake.

    The combination of salmon, tuna, yellow tale, spicy fish eggs, shrimp tempura, various sauces, rice and seaweed, is not, however, at the top of Nagasu’s post-Olympic menu.

    “”First of all,”” she said, “”I’m going to go to the grocery store, and go to the sections with refrigerators and get ice cream. And then I’m going to be sitting in front of a TV and eating my heart out. And hopefully it will be because I’m happy and not because I’m sad.”” 

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