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Figure skater may not medal, but she wins hearts

OLYMPICS

Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia is a one-woman media show with her candid talk and witty observations.

February 14, 2010|By Philip Hersh

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Three forces of nature blew into the area late last week.

Rain, snow and Mirai Nagasu.

The weather wiped out the entire first weekend of alpine skiing at Whistler, forcing postponements of the men's downhill and women's super combined.

Nagasu filled some of the entertainment gap with the mix of witticisms, wisdom, wacky observations about herself and her experiences, and the often self-critical honesty that already have made her a one-woman media show.

Saturday, at a news conference for the two U.S. entrants in women's figure skating, the 16-year-old Nagasu once again left her audience to marvel at her no-words-barred approach.

Anything that crosses her mind, she says, often in stream-of-consciousness ramblings.

The candor can get her in deep, as it did three weeks ago with her explanation for why she was so looking forward to the swag that would be hers for having made the Olympic team by finishing second at the U.S. Championships.

"I guess I can be stereotypical and say that Asians are very cheap," said Nagasu, a Japanese American.

When the subject came up again Saturday in a question about what she had received, Nagasu said an Asian American friend who is "very Americanized" had scolded her about the comment.

"But I've already said what's been said," Nagasu continued, then explained how she regretted having arrived only Thursday because a lot of her sizes no longer were available in the clothing provided by the U.S. Olympic team.

And so it went, with Nagasu deadpanning that the change she has made in her free skate routine since nationals was to add a quadruple jump, then following it with a perfectly timed, "Just kidding."

It might take such a rare athletic feat -- only one woman, Japan's Miki Ando, has landed a quad in competition -- to contend with the overwhelming favorite, Kim Yuna of South Korea. Nagasu, as usual, had an interesting take on Kim's position.

"Being the heavy favorite is not always the good thing," Nagasu said. "It's the Olympics, so the whole world is watching.

"Hopefully, I will be able to just stand next to Yuna, and while she is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, I will just be holding it up with a finger."

Although Nagasu's chances for a medal here are minimal, especially with judges inclined to downgrade some of her jumps for incomplete rotations, she is on the way to becoming a star in two countries.

Panasonic, a Japanese company and global Olympic sponsor, signed her to an endorsement deal after nationals. That provided her with more swag -- still and video cameras and a High Definition 3D home theater system -- and enough money to allow her parents to close their 28-seat sushi restaurant in Arcadia and travel to Vancouver for the women's competition next week.

Nagasu will go back to Los Angeles on Sunday because there is little practice ice available here for the women until the end of this week. She returns to Vancouver on Friday.

Even though she will be spending relatively little time in the Olympic Village, Nagasu still is envious of U.S. ice dancer Tanith Belbin, who is sharing a two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite with men's skater and fashionista Johnny Weir.

"I wish I could room with Johnny and get tips on makeup and styling," she said.

Nagasu already has a style all her own.

phersh@tribune.com

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