Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Frank Carroll: Good Cop/Bad Cop



Much internet buzz has surrounded the comments made to and about Mirai Nagasu by Frank Carroll.  Having coached Mirai for about eighteen months, Frank has been through a trying time with the young skating starlet.  He was brought in as her coach in a last ditch effort to right her quest to make the Olympic Team.  There were underrotated jumps, an overall juvenile look on the ice, lack of discipline, and focus issues to correct in his time.  Given Mirai's immense talent, Frank knew that he had a diamond in the rough on his hands.



Mirai went on to qualify for the Olympics and place fourth in Vancouver, but she did so by having quite a few crumbling long programs along the way.  Once again, Mirai had a strong short program at Worlds and followed it up with a sub-par free skate. A stress fracture in her foot kept Mirai off the ice for two months this summer, which Frank felt gave Mirai an opportunity to rest after the Olympic season.

Frank Carroll is one of the top figure skating coaches on the planet, if not the best.  He was coached World Champions under systems including figures, without figures and now under the International Judging System.  He has worked with an assortment of students, but perhaps never one quite like Mirai.  The focus can't just occur right before competitions, it needs to be everyday.

Given her overall 'little girl' nature and attitude, many people use Mirai's age as an excuse.  The girl is 17 going on 18.  The truth is that at her age, Michelle Kwan had two World Titles and an Olympic Silver Medal, Tara Lipinski was retired after being World and Olympic Champion, and Mao Asada and Yu-Na Kim were already dominating the sport. Frequently, we will hear that Mirai often doesn't work as hard as she can in training.  Evan Lysacek used to yell at her to get her focused and on task.  Leading into Nationals, Frank said that Mirai only got her shit together within the last three weeks.  It isn't enough time to perform well at the highest level.

It is true that Mirai was injured this summer.  That injury allowed her to admittedly grow "outwards and upwards."  That was a major problem this season, as she was visibly out of shape at her Grand Prix events.  It also made it more difficult to get her jumps back.  When other athletes have missed time, they often swim, do yoga and pilates, and all sorts of exercise to keep their bodies in tip-top shape and ready to meet the challenges of the ice.  Mirai went on to compete at two Grand Prix events that she was not prepared for, largely in part due to her lack of effort during her time off the ice.  When asked about her time off, Mirai mentioned spending the summer at the beach.  More focused champions would mention all of the work they did to stay in shape and even improve aspects of their core strength.

One of Frank Carroll's greatest strengths as a coach is that he has the right blend between a calming influence and a strict disciplinarian.  He has a stern side that is rarely shown in public, but it is known by his skaters.  Frank encouraged Mirai before her free skate to give her confidence, but he was far from pleased with her effort in the long program at Nationals.  After a frustrating year and half, Frank openly told her that "she blew it."  Given how many fans adore Mirai, they were shocked that he would say that.  Many internet posters argued that she should leave him and find a better coach.

The truth of the matter is that Mirai is an elite athlete who hires her coach to get her to perform to the best of her ability.  Coaches are not there to merely be a friend to the skater.  Frank teaches Mirai technique, but a great deal of his job is psychologically preparing her.  That is a difficult task to due considering the unruly nature of the student.  One of the reasons Mirai is so popular is because she is charismatic and cluelessly says whatever she is thinking.  It may be entertaining, but it does not reflect the necessary discipline of a champion.

There is a lack of 'internal win' going on that is extremely evident.  Michelle Kwan was serious in interviews, but she also trained her ass off.  Tim Goebel was fired by Frank by not skating well, but he was still working hard.  Linda Fratianne, Evan Lysacek and Tiffany Chin were all talented, but they pushed themselves and worked with discipline and intention.  There were never articles with their own coach criticizing their work ethic.  When a coach openly criticizes their athlete in the media, it is often a way to get through to them and get them on track.  It is likely not the first time the coach has tried to get that message through to the athlete, but they are doing it whichever way will work.  Bela Karolyi frequently used this tactic.  Suzanne Yoculan declared her team 'underachievers' to get them into a winning mindset.

Frank is known for having strong jump technique.  Mirai's jumps have always had technique issues, but it is something that they've worked on.  At times, her jumps are much improved.  There are also times that she resorts back to bad habits under pressure.  Twice this season, we've seen Mirai completely miss spins during her free skates.  This is due to a lack of focus and preparation.  When one is prepared, the pressure they feel is reduced dramatically.  When someone takes center ice, there is the feeling of being revealed and almost naked.  One's true preparation is revealed during the course of those four minutes.  Mental preparation often develops over the course of repetition and competitive experience when prepared.  While Mirai was not prepared for her Grand Prix events, she had two months to get her act together for Nationals.  Many other skaters have suffered injuries and delivered.  Michelle Kwan was only the ice for mere weeks before the 1998 Nationals, yet she pulled off two legendary performances due to her physical fitness and mental strength.  Michelle didn't let herself go (physically or mentally) when off the ice.

One of the lasting quotes of Frank Carroll's from this weekend is his declaration and hope that this is the swift kick in the ass that she needs to finally get on task, get focused and get serious.  For all of the talent Mirai has, she has not improved at the rate one would anticipate. Years have gone by where everyone has discussed her potential.  Unfortunately, she has periods where she rests on being talented and doesn't push through to the next level.  This coming year represents a critical period for Mirai as a skater.  If she doesn't come back serious, trained, focused and ready to compete, the powers that have supported her will likely lose faith and move on.  Too many talented skaters are coming up for Mirai to give away titles that should be her own.  Skaters often become passed without even realizing it.  What may be 'just one competition' for one, may be a long-time coming in the minds of others.  It generally takes a bit for the changing of the guard to officially take place.  Everyone in skating knows how talented Mirai is, but at the end of the day, the focus and drive to be the best needs to come to herself.  It is understandable that her coach is exasperated by her inconsistent nature, as he is charged with making her a champion.  He'd hug her and be happy with a bronze medal if she was just a girl skating for fun and hoping to make it through Regionals and Sectionals.  The time for 'potential' is over.  As her youth fades, it is time to put up or shut up.  (And in her case, perhaps both.)

45 comments:

  1. Nicely put. It is so frustrating to her fans who know she has the talents and potential to be one of the best when she doesn't perform well which is often the case. Get it together Mirai!!! Also get better programs for next season. Her long program this season was such a bore and had no points of view.

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  2. Mirai has shown that she just doesn't "want it" badly enough. After the flirtation with the olympic podium and the world gold last year Mirai promised a more dedicated skater and we expected 2010-11 to be finally her breakout year, especially with the absence of Yu-na. Instead Mirai got injured and failed to recover in a satisfying manner. She showed no emotional growth and caved in to the same old demons. Will she ever be more than a charming girl and great short program skater? who knows. Frank Carroll is the one to drag a good freeskate out of her if anyone can, but unless Mirai puts the work in (and Lori Nichol finds better inspiration) I don't see any world championships on the horizon just yet.

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  3. Shades of Johnny Weir???

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  4. I kind of get the feeling she really wants to quit - but can't (I'm guessing) because her parents sunk so much money and maybe expectation into her career and now she feels like she has to pay them back.

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  5. " He has worked with an assortment of students, but perhaps never one quite like Mirai."

    Well the man did work with Christopher Bowman and Nicole Bobek, but I suppose their problems were of a different variety than Mirai's.

    Hopefully this disappointment will be enough to get Mirai back on track. This should have been an easy National Title considering Czisny's dismal (before this year) international track record and the international judges' coldness towards Flatt. If she had gone clean, they would have given it to her. Surely she knows that.

    But then again, I would have thought that last year's disappointment at Worlds would have been enough. That would have been an easy medal had she stayed on her damn feet. Hell, they even put her ahead of a relatively clean Mao Asada in the short. If that wasn't the kick in the pants she needed, I'm not sure anything else will work. Some people (Kwan, Lysacek, Fratianne) have that competitive drive. Mirai Nagasu does not. I'm not sure what else Frank Carroll or anyone else can do for her.

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  6. What was happening when she came out for the short program and had to move to a different starting position? It seemed like she had a lapse as to which program she was skating.

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  7. I'm only a casual skating fan but I think it's pretty obvious that Mirai doesn't have the internal motivation that Kwan, Evan and Yu-na. At the highest level of the sport, often the battle is more pyscholgical than physical.

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  8. My daughter is a reasonably talented skater and a damn hard worker. She was offended by Mirai giving up like that and she loves Mirai. To her, Franks comments were exactly what should have been said. Plus, she expects Mirai to hear a lot more of the same in private. :-) This is not Mirai's first "give up" program. Must be infuriating for a coach.

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  9. I agree with @11:40, I just don't think Mirai wants it badly enough. I think she's been lucky along the way to win things based on her talent alone, and it hasn't made her hungry.

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  10. "My daughter is a reasonably talented skater and a damn hard worker." Anon 7:39 AM

    And she wasn't at National? She's such a loser!

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  11. Excellent post! As a longtime fan of Mirai, it was incredibly frustrating to watch her performance at Nationals and sad to see so much potential go to waste. She reminds me a lot of Cohen, though Cohen was able to dominate domestically (outside of Kwan) in a way that Mirai is not able to do.

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  12. Excellent post. This kind of thing doesn't just apply to athletes.

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  13. I like Mirai's carefree attitude. I like it a lot more than Rachael Flatt's look-how-smart-I am-I-will-conguer-the-ice-F***-you-all attitude. Alissa is beautiful but boring. I wouldn't have started watching figure skating if there wasn't interesting person like Mirai. Maybe she's saving the best for the last (next olympic). However I like the dynamics between Frank and Mirai. When they show their little scene before Mirai's turn on competitions, it's suddenly a reality show. Frank's dead serious face and voice,, and Mirai's terrified look on her baby face is so amusing to watch.

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  14. I think Frank knows what he's doing. If he doesn't think that Mirai is putting in enough work, he'll fire her.

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  15. I agree that Mirai doesn't have drive and work ethic of others. No one can instill determination into someone, not even Frank Carroll. I also wonder if she would really like to quit and her parents won't let her.

    I don't mean to be cruel, but I'm curious how she is as a student. She comes off as a dimbulb. At 17, she reminds me of an IEP student.

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  16. Her youth is not fading by the way. She is a baby. That was needless exaggeration. I think she is "young" in skating until 20.

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  17. Mirai's laziness came out during the Olympics when they asked her and Rachael to describe their schedules. Rachael informed us she gets up at 5:45am and goes to school from 6:30- 8:30. Then she goes to the rink and does two sessions. She returns to school for more classes. Finally she returns to the rink and does two more sessions finishing at 8:00. She then has to get home and finish homework.

    Mirai shared that she gets up at 7:00, at which time she walked her dog from 7:00- 8:00. Then I forget what she did next, but for some reason she didn't start training until 9:00. Then she starts school about 3:00. She didn't specify how many hours.

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  18. People want maturity from Mirai? She is epitome of youthfulness! I don't want it to go away soon. She'll get mature later, I mean most of her life, sometime after 20. Not now!

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  19. I just hope Frank doesn't fire her because then she'd really be screwed.

    The fact that she admitted she blanked out and "forgot" her opening stance/movement in the SP (or even forgot to start? Which was it? It was bad, either way) concerns me very much. How much less focused can you be?

    Mirai is still one of my favorite skaters out there and I hope she's capable of pulling it together. At the least, I want her around for her interviews. It's just amazing.

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  20. Great post. If Frank Carroll can't whip her into shape and give her the discipline she needs, I don't know who can.

    I'm reminded of when Manon Perron fired Joannie Rochette a few years back because she just wasn't working hard enough. After a season with another coach, Joannie sucked it up and asked Manon for another shot. While she was still too inconsistent for the most part, at least it wasn't because she wasn't working hard enough and wasn't prepared.

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  21. Sorry, I HATE this. First of all, we are questioning the work ethic of someone we don't even know. Yes, Mirai may have spent too much time at the beach this summer, but she is also very self-depreciating, and for all we know she may have been going to the beach every day after 3 hours of working out at the gym. Honestly, when you don't have use of your leg, there's only so much working out you CAN do. It's not like you can get on the treadmill or the elliptical and do cardio.

    Secondly, WHY must we compare her to Kwan? Kwan and Lipinski were the exception, not the norm. 16 and 17 yr olds are not supposed to be winning many medals. How about Cohen, Arakawa, Slutskaya, Rochette, etc, etc winning World and Olympic medals as adults rather than children? That's more normal... The teenage years are tough... It's a lot easier for a skater to appreciate her skating career when she's an adult who's expected to have a job... Suddenly a skating career instead of a boring real job sounds like a great thing.

    Thirdly, Mirai's jumping technique has enough kinks in it that she's going to need more time to adjust and improve. She's already done well by fixing that weird hook on her jump landings.

    Fourthly, we're being too hard on this girl... Maybe she doesn't train as hard as she should, but until we have proof of that, it's just nonsense talk. She has been top 3 in back-to-back Nationals and has had very respectable showings in intl competitions. Surely, she's very competitive.

    I know people like to look for dramatic stories, but really, this girl is just human.

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  22. Sorry some of you are frustrated that Mirai has not yet "finally" broken through, but she's 17. She has all the time in the world to improve her focus, mental strength, jump technique, discipline... Hopefully for her sake, she isn't just lollygagging around. She has a lot of talent, but when you see her repeatedly botching spins, you know that maybe the training isn't where it could be. She has a lot of talent, hopefully she uses it! The 4th place in the Olympics was a huge surprise and came very soon... She will need to go backwards before she goes forwards!

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  23. I don't know what this "Mirai couldn't remember her opening pose" stuff is, but have you all ever thought that it's not always easy for an inexperienced athlete to do well when they are feeling the pressure? Most often, athletes need to LEARN how to compere. Mirai said herself that it's difficult for her when she enters the LP in 1st place. She just needs time to learn how to compete. I hope all you nitwits write her off, just like you all wrote off Czisny, and even Flatt. Flatt was supposed to be toast this year, and she's going to Worlds. Write Mirai off, and then she'll win another National title within 2-3 years and y'all will be singing her praises again.

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  24. In the truth booth, Mirai stated she was the best America had to offer. Before her skate, Frank told her she was the best skater in the world. I really think they should both take it down a notch and focus on her actual skating, rather than her being the best. By trying to be the best all the time, Mirai ends up never being the best. Both her and Frank need to relax already and focus on the skating, not the results. Mirai will also train harder when she realizes she cannot just rely on her talent & "I'm the best" factor.

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  25. i think the 'best' stuff ^ is just to try to bolster that girl's eggshell confidence.

    but really, Mirai has NOT been in shape since her injury. there's been enough time for her to get into shape and she hasn't.

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  26. Mirai's own coaches hint at her lacking focus and discipline. And they do this publicly as if to cry out to her to improve these things. It's not that people are questioning her work ethic based on her performances. People are questioning it based on the fact that her own coaches question it.

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  27. Maybe Mirai needs a little separation from her parents. Doesn't her mother stand by the boards and watch every practice? I know I'd want to rebel against that type of smothering.

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  28. What is wrong with you? You made an entire post harping on the fact that Mirai Nagasu is not as amazing as Michelle Kwan or Tara Lipinski? And how terrible it is that she wanted to go to the frickin' beach for a vacation? And how immature it is that she doesn't WANT to have a strict skating regime? And how irresponsible it is that she just wants to chillax with her friends?

    I love figure skating, but sometimes I feel the sort of nonsense they endure borders on child abuse.

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  29. I don't know Mirai personally so I can't say whether she works hard or not, that's a thing with her and her coach. I do know that there may be other factors. I believe her mother is a cancer patient and that it was mention that ehr mother was going to start a treatment after the olympics. That can affect her on a personal level too, and transcent to her training. I'm not trying to make excuses for her but rather take other aspect to understand the last 9 or 10 months.

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  30. I'm with Anon 12:45. Why such harsh comments? I understand that they're all the flip side of the HIGH expectations that we have for her. But really, every athlete mature at his/her own pace (both psychologically AND physically). Give her time ! Sure, she might not be as great as how other 'legends' were at the same age, but comparing her with them is useless. Let's all just relax a bit, sit back and watch over how she develops.

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  31. lol @ 4.24

    No on accidently becomes and elite figure skater, and no one becomes and elit figure skater by "chillaxing" on the beach.

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  32. [Quote]
    What is wrong with you? You made an entire post harping on the fact that Mirai Nagasu is not as amazing as Michelle Kwan or Tara Lipinski? And how terrible it is that she wanted to go to the frickin' beach for a vacation? And how immature it is that she doesn't WANT to have a strict skating regime? And how irresponsible it is that she just wants to chillax with her friends?

    I love figure skating, but sometimes I feel the sort of nonsense they endure borders on child abuse.[/Quote]

    I'm sorry but I actually disagree. I think its pretty immature of Mirai to waste what hundreds thousands of her parents/sponsors money. And a great coach like Frank Carroll's time if she doesn't want a strict skating regime.

    Nobody's saying that great champions never go to the beach :lol:. But the fact of the matter is that being a great champion requires hard work and inner desire. The life of an elite athlete requires sacrifice. And its not child abuse if the child wants it.

    There's a story of Tara Lipinski going to Disney World with her friend. Tara told her friend first that she first wanted to skate a half hour before she went on the rides. Tara ended up being their for four hours. Tara's feelings where I'm sorry but I'm not leaving the ice until I'm satisfied with my skating. It wasn't in the end anyone forcing Tara to act this way even though she had crazy parents. It was in the end Tara who had the inner drive to be a champion.

    I wonder if Mirai truly wants it? And its fine if Mirai wants to be a normal girl, go to school. But I think Frank's perfectly entitled to feel his time is being wasted, because in the end people blame him.

    It would be so one thing if Mirai was a multie world champion who perhaps wanted to take it easy for a bit ala Yagudin at times. But Mirai's never even been on the world podium and the last time she won a major title was when she was 14. In the end I think the question is does Mirai want it?

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  33. Am I the only one who remembers Mirai's comment few months ago that she went to beach almost for the first time in her life? She could play at beach with her cousins while her leg is healing. Nothing wrong with that.. On youtube there is Mirai's interview and she's saying she gets up at 4 am and go to 2 rinks a day plus studying her highschool stuff. Everyday.

    I also remember her interview at 2010 nationals saying "I want to be future of US figure skating" and at this year's interview at nationals saying " I want to win". I don't agree to the notions that she has defeatist tendency or being lazy. And hey, the next winter olympics is 3 years away.

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  34. Mirai is often regarded as exceptionally talented, so it's understandable why one would compare her case to the careers of Kwan, Lipinski, Yuna, Mao, etc. People want to compare her to greats who had success at such a young age. Until the comparison becomes unfavorable.

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  35. I don't think we know enough details of Mirai's life to judge her work ethic fairly... even if she did tank the long program.

    On a slight tangent, does anyone else find Frank's pre-skate speaches to be counterproductive at times? If I was about to step on the ice and already nervous, the last thing I'd want to hear was that I needed to show I was the best skater in the world, and I'd certainly not want to hear it in that slightly fake sounding tone of voice. Perhaps my reaction is not a common one, but his "pep" talks always make me more nervous for the skater, and I've noticed some of his skaters look completely terrified when they're listening to him.

    Confidence in your ability is instilled over the weeks and months of training, not in the last three minutes before a performance. If a skater doesn't already believe they are the best, then hearing it at the last minute is unlikely to help. So if a skater like Mirai is coming into a competition with less preparation than they'd like, something like that just sounds desperate.

    It would scare the flying spins out of me, anyways...

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  36. At the end of AJ's post, he said that Mirai's youth is fading. I hardly think that her youth is fading away at 17. We just think she's old because she's been around on the senior level for three years now. When your first appearance at senior nationals is at age 14, I guess by 17 you would appear old, in comparison, but let's not get carried away! It was kind of like with Michelle Kwan. In the later years of her career, people--albeit, probably not loyal skating fans--thought Michelle Kwan was ancient, like 30 or something, even though she was only in her early to mid-20s. It was just because Michelle's career had been so long, that people assumed she was old. I compare Mirai to the other "up and comers" like Agnes and Christina Gao, and they are 16. Everyone kept saying how "young" they were, yet at a year older, Mirai is already old news? I don't think so. Let's see what happens!

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  37. Anon 12:45 is actually incorrect regarding the relative ages of ladies champions. Despite the term "lady" being used to describe female figure skaters, the reference is not illustrative of a mature woman in her mid or late twenties. Rather it refers more accurately to a young woman who has come out of her adolescence who is capable of presenting herself in an acceptably mature way.

    The actual average age of the Olympic ladies champion since World War 2 is 19.23 years old. It would actually go down if you included the prior couple of decades because of Sonja Henie's wins as a teen. In fact, aside from the first two ladies Olympics champs a century ago, only two winners have been older than 22 (Henie the third time and Arakawa). Since World War 2 when multi-revolution jumps became the norm, there have only been four winners over the age of 20 (Altwegg age 21-1952, Dijkstra age 22-1964, Witt age 22-1988, and Arakawa age 24-2006). What three of these four have in common is that they won medals at the previous Olympics as teens (Altwegg-bronze in '48, Dijkstra-silver in '60, and Witt-gold in '84). Of course Arakawa was a former world champion and Olympian, so there was a pedigree there for her as well.

    If you include the preceding years of world championships before these post-WWII champs, it becomes clear that the sweet spot for a ladies skater starts at about 16 or 17 and concludes around 20 for most with a few exceptions.

    I know of lot of skating fans who read this blog aren't old enough to remember life before Kwan, but this is not about an unfair comparison to Tara of Michelle. There is a reason why ladies skating (along with gymnastics and swimming) are considered sports for the very young. Virtually every ladies champ for the last century has been either dominant of nearing her peak at the age the Mirai is right now. Time actually is running out for her based on the numbers. It's not over, but she must begin to maximize her potential soon in order to tap into the longevity everyone insists she has to fall back on.

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  38. James, I DO get your point.
    But really, that's NOT the point.
    Why must she "begin to maximize her potential soon" at all ? Statistics may show a trend, I agree, but like I've said earlier, each athlete mature at their own pace, and who are we to judge hers ? She might not be ready now psychologically nor physically, but who knows how she'll be in another coupla years? She might actually be one of those exceptions like Shizuka Arakawa and peak at a much later age than what your statistics suggest AND what we all hope for. You never know.
    The point is, why rush and expect so much from her NOW? Is the US ladies field THAT depleted? I don't think so.

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  39. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Slyp5sgJZyU
    We need competitors like Tara nowadays...and people say Taras jumps were cheated...ha ! Look at this...and if you arent sure wait for replays!
    Anyways I hope Mirai can get it together.

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  40. "Her youth is not fading by the way. She is a baby. That was needless exaggeration. I think she is "young" in skating until 20."

    19 or 20 used to be retirement age for female skaters and not that long ago.

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  41. I'm glad Mirai didn't make the World team with her poor LP. Hopefully missing Worlds in Toyko, a city she was looking forward to competing in, will help encourage her to get it together. She's such a talent. Why, why, why can't a Mirai have the work ethic of a Rachael? Kwan seems to be the last female skater who had both the discipline and ability.

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  42. I'm hoping this was a wake-up call for her as well. People (me included) are getting sick of waiting around for her to realize how amazing and talented she is. I'm glad she missed worlds this year (she wouldn't have medaled with those crappy programs anyway).

    I agree with whoever said she just doesn't want it bad enough. If she did we wouldn't keep getting stories about her or Frank saying that she's unprepared, unfocused or not working hard enough. In a sport that is 100% dependent on the skater, there's only so much motivation a coach or parent can give. Mirai shouldn't need Evan there to yell at her; that voice in her head should be the one pushing her to try hard and work even harder. It has to come from her. If she wants to be the best like she claims to want to be the best, she needs to put forth the effort.

    She has time. It used to be that skaters rose to mini-legend status before hitting 18 years old (look at Michelle's resume prior to turning 18) but skaters are peaking later now and Mirai is still very young. I hope she performs her ass off at 4CC next week and then goes home and does some serious re-evaluating. She needs better programs, more confidence and the motivation to step up and be the skater everyone knows she can be...

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