I’ve been covering figure skating for a number of years, and every Olympic year guarantees a controversy.
Mirai Nagasu skating career was unceremoniously ended on Sunday, the victim of a perfect storm of circumstances. Her past performance, two up and coming skaters and an unforgiving US figure skating selection committee.
While Mirai was fourth in the 2010 Vancouver Games as a 16-year-old, her past Olympics experience didn’t win her supporters. She struggled at last year Nationals, including a disastrous free skate that dropped her from third to seventh. The position was high enough to have her participate in Grand Prix competitions. Despite a 3rd place finish at Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, her 8th place performance at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo may have sealed her fate.
Many people I’ve discussed woth on this have sworn off watching another figure skating event. Among the tweets I’ve read,
- “…just another BS sport i won’t watch anymore, someone got paid off to put Wagner in there instead! Gotta love Corporate GREED!“
- “The selection committee’s decision is RIGGED!”
- “Why the Hell am I even surprised, they change the rules to and then tell us, they don’t change the rules. Why even have trials, it’s a waste of money, considering the pick a 4th place winner.”
Some angry fans have even started a petition to have Mirai re-instated to the Olympic team, although at this point, the committee’s decision is usually final, unless there’s a Tonya Harding-like scandal.
Rules allow the US Figure Skating Association to judge a skater’s “body of work” over the past year, which can carry an unspecified weight in the final team selection. However, I’ve had a couple of theories I’ve why the USFSA would keep Mirai off the team.
I was very surprised the committee selected Polina Edmunds, as she was 15 years old and was untested in senior international competition. I may have an explanation on that. Polina’s mother, Nina is a native of Russia. What better way to show your lineage than to skate in the country of your birth? So, the USFSA representatives did the Edmunds’ family a favor at Mirai’s expense.
Now, I don’t blame Polina at all, as she definitely earned her way to the Olympics. But IMHO, someone on the committee pulled some strings to make it happen. I can’t prove it, but it makes for interesting watercooler talk.
Another theory is, and I hate to bring it up, race.
Ashley Wagner has been heavily promoted by US Figure Skating and NBC, which will broadcast the Sochi Games in February. With high-profile skiier Lindsey Vonn out of the Olympics with an injury, an absent Wagner would have left the United States — and the network — without another visible star and medal hopeful.
In otherwords, plain and simple, Mirai isn’t market material or “white” enough.
On Sunday before the exhibition, Nagasu choked back tears as she took the ice for the, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd that then fell so silent during her performance that you could hear her skates gliding across the ice. After her program, she wiped away more tears as she skated off to another standing ovation.
Nagasu declined to speak to reporters afterward, but later released a statement. “I’m disappointed in the decision. Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made,”
She may be forced to accept the decision, but it doesn’t make it right. For the record, I thought Mirai Nagasu’s exclusion from the US Olympic team was a tragedy. There are factors I can’t prove and we’ll never know what was said in the board room on Saturday night. (I’d like to be a fly in that room.)
However, I realize that in figure skating, it’s about how many competitions have you won. Ashley Wagner had a better Grand Prix season than Mirai. If there’s a way to put both of them on the squad, I’m sure it would have been done by now.
If history has taught us anything, it’s this. “Having something is a lot different than wanting it.” In Mirai’s loss, Wagner now has even more pressure to perform at a higher level in Sochi.
Good luck with that one!