It's been a rough month for Mirai Nagasu.
The 20-year-old figure skater won the bronze medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships two weeks ago, but 4th-place finisher Ashley Wagner was named to the three-woman Olympic team alongside U.S. gold medalist Gracie Gold and silver medalist Polina Edmunds.
Nagasu, who placed fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games, was so upset she was passed over that she cried while performing in the post-championship skating exhibition. "I'm disappointed in the decision," she said in statement. "Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made."
As a consolation, Nagasu was sent to the Four Continents Championships, which was held this week in Taipei, Taiwan.
The Four Continents Championship is a prestigious competition, with the top skaters from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania competing for prize money.
[Related: Murakami wins Four Continents gold]
But with Sochi just weeks away, most countries sent their "B" teams in order to allow their Olympians to rest and train. Nagasu, Samantha Cesario and Courtney Hicks represented the United States in Taipei.
With the depleted field, it was a chance for Nagasu to duplicate her strong performances from the U.S. Championships and end her season on a high note. Sadly, she faltered and finished 10th – the lowest placement of her skating career. Hicks and Cesario placed 5th and 8th, respectively.
In the short program, Nagasu stepped out of her jump combination. She also earned a deduction for going over the allotted time.
To the untrained eye, her free skate looked clean. But three of her six triple jumps were under-rotated – a.k.a. "cheated," meaning she failed to fully get around three times in the air. These mistakes were very costly.
Under the current judging system, a fall on a triple jump can be worth more points than an under-rotated triple jump.
Case and point: Wagner fell on her triple loop at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She earned 3.51 points for that jump. Nagasu "cheated" her triple flip – a more difficult jump than the loop – at the Four Continents Championship. The technical specialist downgraded the triple flip to a double flip. Nagasu earned a measly 1.38 points for that jump, half of what she would've earned if she fell on a fully-rotated triple.
[Related: Wagner takes huge risk weeks before Sochi]
Under-rotations have plagued Nagasu. She rarely falls, but often her triple jumps aren't judged as clean. If they were, her results would be higher and her body of work – which was ultimately used to decide the final Olympic berth – would be more competitive with Wagner's.
Had Nagasu duplicated her score from Nationals, where she only under-rotated one jump, she would have won the silver medal in Taipei.
It's unclear what Nagasu's next move will be. She is the first alternate to both the Olympic and World Championship teams, meaning if Gold, Edmunds or Wagner withdraw or become injured, she will skate. Otherwise, her season is over.
While her supporters claim she was cheated out of a spot in Sochi, the "cheats" Nagasu must address are in her jump landings. Once she does, she hopefully won't have another month like this one.
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- Ashley Wagner