She made her first Olympics debut in 2010, and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will mark Mirai Nagasu’s official return to Olympic ice. And while she hasn’t actually won a national title in 10 years (though in that time, she’s been a medalist and top contender), she has her sights set on something no American woman has ever accomplished before — landing a triple axel at the sports world’s biggest and most important event.
The best thing is, she’s readier than ever. Failing to make Team USA for the Sochi Olympics in 2014 actually taught her a lot and prepared her for what’s ahead. “Being named to the Olympic team has special meaning to it because I feel like I’ve come full circle,” she said on a teleconference with journalists. “It was really, really heartbreaking to not be named to the team in Sochi, but some things are just not meant to be. That experience changed me as a skater. I took a step back and decided that some things are not worth accepting. I wanted to be on another Olympic team. I took time to evolve myself as a person and as a skater.”
Get to know Nagasu a little better in this exclusive SheKnows interview before she hopefully makes Team USA history in Pyeongchang.
SheKnows: What’s your earliest memory of ice-skating?
Mirai Nagasu: I used to skate around the rink with my mom, and we used to race each other until I started getting way better. Then she hung up her skates and resorted to playing my music at the rink. I just liked going to the rink every day into the freezing cold. Still like it.
SK: What’s your earliest memory of watching the Olympics?
MN: Definitely watching Michelle Kwan be amazing in Nagano. She was and is my role model.
SK: After your heartbreak before the Sochi Olympics, how did you feel making the 2018 Olympic team?
MN: Yeah, I was heartbroken over not making the 2014 Sochi Olympic team. But I don’t think you ever realize it’s going to happen until it happens. It is a moment I will never forget. I was at a loss for words.
SK: What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
MN: I try to look really put together and graceful on the ice, but usually, I’m full of nerves and sometimes I think I’m going to throw up right before my program starts.
SK: What are some obstacles you’ve had to overcome on your road to competing in the Olympics? Did you ever think about quitting?
MN: Everyone has been injured, regardless of whether they’re an athlete or not. I don’t even remember how many times I’ve sprained my ankle. I’ve had stress fractures galore and torn my PCL. You just take a little time off if you have the time, and if not, you keep training until you can take the time off. I definitely thought about quitting after 2014, but luckily, not really!
SK: How do you try to support other women in your sport?
MN: I generally just try to be friends with and cheer on everyone.
SK: How do you navigate the politics that take place behind the scenes of your sport?
MN: I don’t. That kinda of thing can make you crazy. I just keep working on my goals.
SK: Do you have any competition rituals, lucky charms or superstitions?
MN: [Laughs.] No, because what if I lose it? It’ll be the end of the world. Why do that to yourself?
SK: How do you motivate yourself when you’re feeling nervous or defeated?
MN: My mother’s undying belief in me even has always inspired me to keep trying. Even though she doesn’t take me to the rink every day anymore, she still texts me when it’s competition time to have a good time and if I do fall, get up with a smile on my face because at least I tried and put myself out there.
SK: What do you skate to when you’re just skating for fun?
MN: Britney Spears.
SK: Where do you keep all your medals?
MN: In my dreams.
SK: Who are your biggest rivals and is it friendly or contentious?
MN: All my biggest rivals are friendly and basically every woman going to the games is my rival now. Yuna Kim is my BFF. She just doesn’t know it yet.
SK: What athlete is your greatest source of inspiration?
MN: Michelle Kwan because her mental strength is paralleled by no one.
SK: What do you want people to know about you before they watch you in Pyeongchang?
MN: I would simply like to thank all of the people who never stopped believing in me. And also remind people to never lose your undying belief in yourself.
To learn more visit teamusa.org. The Winter Olympics is live starting Feb. 8, 2018 on NBC.