Snub of Mirai Nagasu Sparks Allegations of Favoritism, Racism

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Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

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!

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About smoothjazzandmore

I'm a TV producer and an Internet radio broadcaster. I also write for my blogs (An Op-Ed Blog and a Football Blog) here at WordPress.
This entry was posted in Boston, Figure Skating, Ice Skating, Olympics, Russia, Skating, Sochi, Winter Olympics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Snub of Mirai Nagasu Sparks Allegations of Favoritism, Racism

  1. Kim says:

    I don’t know about the race thing. Asian skaters are very popular. But, you may have something in regards to Polina being Russian. She has that Russian or Eastern European look which is white and thin plus is very disciplined and trained. The Russian skaters are very very good and will be hard to beat. The Japanese are very good and will be hard to beat. But, this Olympics is in Russia with many Eastern European judges and of course a Russian bias. So, placing Polina would be an angle in thinking perhaps she will be liked over there. Polina is a magnificent skater though and if you watch her skating, she is very consistent and disciplined. She has earned a spot but it, no doubt, also has helped her to have this Russian descent. Mirai has many things against her and I don’t think it has to do with her race. I would think being Asian would be in her favor with all of the unbelievably talented Asian skaters who will be almost unbeatable at the Olympics. I don’t know how Ashley would fit in the race bias being white. She doesn’t really fit in the Asian category or the Russian favorite category. She is just ranked #2 in the world right now and it is difficult to not send someone ranked that high. Mirai is coachless and that has not helped her situation. She has had some not so “politically correct” attitude issues in the past and the three skaters going to the Olympics have been so perfect in doing everything the USFS wants from a skater. Nasty politics. So, am not too sure on your race angle although there may be a slight twist, or spin, in that direction.

  2. Sunshine says:

    Excellent point of view MJ. I’m pleading the 5th since I’m clueless on this story, but I wish everyone the best.

  3. gsmith998 says:

    A bizarre article. You would exclude a second-place finishes so the 3-d and the 4-th place finishers can get on the team?

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