Mirai Nagasu earns bronze with personal best at Four Continents


Mirai Nagasu isn’t going to the world championships, but it sure looks like the U.S. team could use her next month.

The 2010 Olympian earned bronze at the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, setting new personal-best free-skate and total scores.

Nagasu, in her ninth season of senior international competition, tallied 132.04 and 194.95 points, respectively, at the world championships and Olympics tune-up event.

“To have all those months of training come to fruition is why work hard and why I keep coming back,” said Nagasu, who just missed the 2014 Olympic team. “When these moments happen, it’s so exciting and so gratifying. It just validates my reason for training hard every day, doing programs even when I don’t feel like it and getting up when I fall.”

Japan’s Mai Mihara took gold with 200.85 total points, improving from fourth after Thursday’s short program. Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, the short-program leader, held on for silver with 196.91 points.

Nagasu, who was fifth after the short program, had the second-best free skate score behind Mihara and earned her second straight Four Continents medal after silver in 2016. She landed seven triple jumps in a clean program.

“The bronze means more to me,” Nagasu said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The performance I was able to put out tonight was just amazing. It felt magical.”

Full results are here. NBC will air coverage at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Nagasu finished fourth at the U.S. Championships last month, missing the three-woman worlds team. Two of the three women who beat her at nationals were also at Four Continents.

U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell finished sixth on Saturday, 17.85 points shy of Nagasu, while U.S. champion Karen Chen was 12th, 28.13 points behind Nagasu. Both Bell and Chen, who have few accolades internationally, spoke afterward about nerves at Four Continents.

“Not exactly how I wanted it to go,” Bell said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “There were a few pretty big mistakes, but overall, this was the most pressure I think I’ve had in an event.”

U.S. silver medalist Ashley Wagner skipped Four Continents, as she usually does, to prepare for worlds next month in Helsinki.

The top two U.S. women at worlds out of Bell, Chen and Wagner must have placements that add up to no greater than 13 for the U.S. to earn the maximum three entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. Say, sixth and seventh place.

That likely won’t happen if Bell and Chen repeat their performances from Four Continents, given this week’s competition didn’t include skaters from Europe.

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Sonja Henie record at stake; figure skating worlds pairs preview

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When Aljona Savchenko won her first gold medal at her fifth Olympics with her third different partner in PyeongChang, she said she “wrote history.”

She can write some more this week.

Savchenko, who at 34 became the oldest female figure skating champion in Winter Olympic history, and partner Bruno Massot are the only pairs medalists from PyeongChang who are back for the world championships in Milan.

The Germans headline the field for the short program Wednesday and free skate Friday.

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Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs list with a sixth world title, four shy of Soviet Irina Rodnina‘s record.

Savchenko, who won four crowns with now-retired Robin Szolkowy, goes for her first world title with Massot. They’re clear favorites.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from worlds due to Sui’s foot injury. Olympic bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired.

It’s arguably a surprise that Savchenko and Massot chose to compete in Milan. They’re the first Olympic pairs champions to compete at a post-Olympic worlds since 1992.

Their top challengers are Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who outscored Savchenko and Massot in the Olympic short program but dropped off the podium in the free skate with a fall on their throw.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, 15th at the Olympics, made the top 10 in all of their four world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh. The last U.S. pairs medal came in 2002, the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

The Knierims were the only U.S. pair in PyeongChang, but in Milan they’re joined by Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay.

Stellato earned singles silver at the 2000 World Junior Championships, then retired at age 17 due to hip injuries. She came back at age 32 in 2016 in pairs and, with the Sochi Olympian Bartholomay, took bronze at this year’s nationals.

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Mirai Nagasu enters worlds motivated by Olympic finish, future undecided

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A sense of validation coursed through Mirai Nagasu. Probably in PyeongChang, when she became the first U.S. woman to land a triple Axel at the Olympics. Definitely two weeks ago, when she attended the Academy Awards.

“It felt like I had really made it,” she said in an interview with NBC Sports Research. “The Oscars was open bar, so I had a little champagne there.”

The 24-year-old had earned at least that much, but somewhere in the back of her mind on March 4 had to be Milan, where she would be in two weeks for the world championships.

“It’s hard to [train] programs when you want to go on vacation and sip a mimosa,” Nagasu said, “but something about alcohol and training doesn’t mix well.”

Most of the other big-name U.S. Olympic figure skaters — including Adam Rippon and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani — withdrew from worlds, along with many international medalists, after the Olympics. For some, there were simply too many off-ice opportunities to fit in training. Others, exhaustion. Or retirement.

None of the above for Nagasu.

“Part of the reason I want to go to worlds [is] because I know I’m capable of performing better than I did in the long,” she said.

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Nagasu wasn’t referring to her memorable long program from the Olympic team event, where she helped the U.S. secure a bronze medal with that triple Axel.

Rather, she meant the individual free skate.

A fatigued Nagasu popped her planned triple Axel for zero points and singled a triple Lutz. She finished 10th overall, part of the worst U.S. women’s results in Winter Olympic history (but not completely unexpected given the pre-Olympic world rankings).

Nagasu knew that she was a dark-horse bronze-medal pick after her personal-best free skate in the team event. She scored nearly 18 fewer points in the individual long program.

So Nagasu decided to compete at worlds after making the U.S. team outright for the annual event for the first time since 2010.

She hopes to land the triple Axel in both programs Wednesday and Friday. That might be necessary to challenge for the podium. Most of the top women from the Olympics are in this week’s field, except silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, sixth in PyeongChang.

It could be the last competition of Nagasu’s career. She has not decided if she will compete in the fall.

“Some days I want to throw my skates in the trash, and other days I’m like, I still love this and I want to kill myself doing programs every day,” she said. “Right now I want to do my best at worlds, and that’s what I’m focused on. … I can’t even really think about competing next season.”

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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