Mirai Nagasu Skating Controversy: Did Race Play a Part?
Image Credit: SCBoston via Flickr

Mirai Nagasu Skating Controversy: Did Race Play a Part?

0 Likes
31 comments

Do officials at U.S. Figure Skating have a penchant for blondes over brunettes?

After a controversial decision to put Ashley Wagner (along with Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds) on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team instead of Mirai Nagasu, some skating fans think that more than hair color played a part. The decision was made a day after Wagner performed miserably and finished a distant fourth to Nagasu’s third at last week’s U.S. National Championships.

The selection was unprecedented. Only four previous times in history did the association pick a skater out of order for the Olympic team – and each time it was because of an injury that kept the chosen skaters from performing at the national championships. Wagner was not suffering from a malady of any kind (except maybe stage fright).

Given that the three female skaters chosen for the Olympic team all had hair of gold (with one even named as such), it didn’t take long for accusations of racism against Asian Americans to surface. First on Twitter, then in The Wall Street Journal.

“Wagner’s flowing blond hair, bellflower-blue eyes and sculpted features mark her as a sporting archetype,” thundered Jeff Yang in the Speakeasy blog. “She’s the embodiment of the ‘golden girl’ the media has extolled when they’ve waxed poetic about idealized ice queens of the past, from Norway’s Sonja Henie to East Germany’s Katarina Witt, a marketer’s dream who’s already signed up tent-pole sponsors like Nike, Pandora Jewelry and CoverGirl, which assessed her Teutonic beauty as being worthy of serving as one of their global ‘faces.’”

The truth is that women’s figure skating has been dominated by Asians and Asian Americans since Witt’s reign ended in 1988. In each of the six Winter Olympics since the German ice queen repeated as the gold medal winner in Calgary, at least one skater of Asian descent has finished on the podium – and two on three occasions. The defending gold and silver medalists – also the two favorites to win in Sochi – happen to be South Korea’s Yuna Kim and Japan’s Mao Asada.

Asian-American skaters  have also have made an indelible mark on U.S. skating. Kristi Yamaguchi won gold in 1992, followed by Michelle Kwan’s reign as the most decorated U.S. female skater in history, and then came Nagasu, who as a 16-year-old finished a surprising fourth at the Vancouver Games in 2010.

Starting with Yamaguchi and until this year, at least one female Asian-American figure skater has been selected to the U.S. team for each Olympics except 1994, when Kwan was bumped after Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by thugs with ties to fellow skater Tonya Harding.

That drama was in large part created by the association’s favoritism toward prim-and-proper Kerrigan, at least as perceived by the camp of the less polished Harding. This year’s perception problem for U.S. Figure Skating – alleged racism – unfortunately isn’t completely without cause.

In 1998, after Tara Lipinski edged Kwan for the Olympic gold in Nagano, MSNBC blasted an Internet alert that screeched “American Beats Out Kwan.” The network announcers on NBC also appeared to favor Lipinski in their commentary, never mind that the Southern California-born Kwan was every bit as “American” as the Philadelphia-bred Lipinski.

Nagasu, herself a native Southern Californian, has chosen to take the high road. She decided not to challenge U.S. Figure Skating’s decision and has accepted her spot as an alternate.

Scott Hamilton, who won a figure skating gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, said that Nagasu’s snub was influenced by more than her placement at nationals.

“The national championships aren’t the Olympic trials,’’ Hamilton told Today. “The selection process for the Olympic Games goes on for a couple of years before the Olympic Games, so the nationals are a part of that process, but it’s not the process. So when you look at Ashley Wagner and what she’s done over the last two years, winning nationals twice, placing high enough in the world championships to allow three participants to go, she’s already earned her spot on the Olympic team.”

Figure skating as a sport has always been full of drama, whether it’s off-the-ice assault or judges on the take. For now, officials at U.S. Figure Skating will settle for peace and quiet before the Sochi Games begin on February 7. But if the American skaters crash and burn – especially Wagner, who has a history of coming up small in big events – they have hardly heard the last of this controversy.

Comments
31
George
January 31, 2014 at 03:03

Tim Wise will call this plain and simple white privilege and when it is reversed and a black woman, Lolo Jones is selected over two whites, Azevedo and Eberling complain like there is no tomorrow.

conservative
January 23, 2014 at 10:58

I think they made it hard on both girls by making this stupid decision. now Ashley is under a lot more pressure to perform. if she falls in front of the world, she will get all the blame and career will be over. they also devastated the Olympic hope and dream of Mirai when she earned her spot fair and scare in front of the national audience. she can train for four more years but that still won’t guarantee she will get in next time. it’s so hard to make the team. I totally understand how Mirai must feel. it’s not fair. as they say money is good but it can be the root of all evil.

conservative
January 23, 2014 at 10:52

Mirai can’t speak for herself for fear of being ostracized and banned for life from the all powerful USFS federation. I’m sure she plans to work hard and
try again 4 years from now. she’s only 20. so it’s up to good people like us to speak up against this corrupt organization that care more about putting more money in their pockets than doing the right thing. they need to honor the placements televised in front of the national audience or if they insist on sending Wagner who consistently can’t perform under pressure, then give Wagner Edmund’s spot. enough of this double standard nonsense. their rationale for sending Wagner applies to Wagner and Mirai but not to Edmunds and that makes no sense and unfair. I think they made it hard on both girls by this stupid decision. Patricia St. Peter should be fired. now Ashley is under a lot more pressure to perform. if she chokes which is likely, they will all blame her and her career will be over. They took Mirai’s spot after she work so hard on her own to earn. she was under as much pressure as anybody and she performed brilliantly when it counts, unlike Ashley. it’s so hard to get on the Olympic ticket. she thought she made it and they shadowed her dreams. shame on them.

jef
January 21, 2014 at 10:49

Was it because of race? Have you heard of Kwan and Yamaguchi? You people are out of your minds and you know nothing about skating. Although it doesn’t seem fair, Ashley Wagner was the one who gained the Ladies three spots versus two because of her placement in the World’s Championships. So your all wrong that Ashley shouldn’t be allowed to go.

tinabythesea
January 20, 2014 at 11:17

I didn’t read the article, but I believe the decision to pick Wagner was unfair and dead wrong….and Wagner has an arrogance about her that is very off-putting. Way to go, USFSA!

guest
January 21, 2014 at 02:01

I also feel that the decision to bump nagasu off the olympic team even when she skated beautifully and placed 3rd is dead wrong. I wanted to do something about it so I signed a petition at change dot org. If you like, you can do the same. I feel so bad for nagasu for being robbed. She’s the best candidate to medal for the US because she excels under pressure and has olympic experience, she almost got the bronze. We need to petition to try to get her on the team so she gets a chance to perform in sochi. We also need to do what’s right.

Ann
January 20, 2014 at 08:44

I think the real problem here is figure skating’s obsession with very young girls who can jump, jump , jump. The only drawback is that after a year or two they can’t do it as well because of natural body changes then most of them fade away. If the long term talent is there and they work at it then we have someone like Mirai Nagasu. I have been following her career from the very beginning and feel she has more than earned her chance at Sochi. Why are we sending a 15 year old untried girl? To me that is the real controversy, not Ashley Wagner.

time
January 20, 2014 at 00:12

Yes, Racism played a part. Asians are silenced in the Media. They need to score higher on their standardized tests to get into to college and they need to finish first to get on the Olympic team. Wagner got in by affirmative action

Jasmine
January 19, 2014 at 10:43

My heart breaks for Mirai!! She has worked so very hard and deserve to be placed on the team. However, she has shown such class in accepting the decision. Wondered if she still had Carroll as her coach, would they have done this. Miria has no one to fight for her except herself. Hold your head high Miria and keep working hard. You will have a chance!! It should have been now, but it didn’t happen. Please do not give up!!

john freyan
January 18, 2014 at 12:59

Let’s not kid ourselves. Gold is going to Yuna Kim, Silver is going to Asada Mao. The score differential between the two is larger than the score differential between the Silver and 7th place. Sorry, but until those two retire, that’s the way it is.

The competition is to see who’s getting the Bronze. Mirai Nagasu placed 4th at Vancouver when she was 16 – beating out veterans like Miki Ando and Rachel Flatt. It is true that Wagner deserves another shot. She’s the reason we have 3 spots to sochi this year. And Gracie Gold is probably going to be our best chance for the bronze now. And Edmunds was chosen probably as an early prospect given a chance to experience the olympics.

Sorry. Nagasu is good, but she’s not good enough. Wagner has better overall record, Gold is a better skater, and Edmunds is the prospect that needs exposure. I agree that Nagasu would have been a LOT more successful than Wagner or Edmunds, and that USFS is making a mistake, but there’s only stupidity operating here – not racism.

Vivian Newell
January 18, 2014 at 22:07

Racism is wild and alive in every bit of American life. The selection of Wagner over Nagasu is no exception. It’s also no exception that this time racism is vehemently defended by an organization against a young talent of Asian descent.

Brave Hearts
January 18, 2014 at 06:52

Which group in America was sent to a concentration camp in the US? Japanese American.

Yes, racism still exists to this day. Look no further than the past. It hides but it can still be shown on public TV. How do you justify body of work when Edmunds has nothing to prove herself. Like Kwan in 92, the future can wait. We need not see her make a fool out if herself, skating to the legendary Yuna Kim and Mao Asada.

Harriet
January 18, 2014 at 06:09

Sadly this is more about money. Wagner has been hyped for months by NBC, the USFS and their sponsors. There is no way that they were going to take a financial hit by not being able to use pre-recorded footage of Ashley. If you follow skating you also know that Mirai’s family has struggled to support her skating. Its again the case of those who have wanting more and those who do not being left behind–Mirai had no coach to lobby for her or even speak on her behalf about the decision. As far as Edmunds being the future that’s too soon to say. She hasn’t hit puberty yet where more than fifty percent of female skaters loose their jumps while trying to adjust to their new bodies.

USA Skater
January 22, 2014 at 05:23

This is the spot on reason. Wagner did earn the US the third spot, but it is her contracts and endorsements with American products that propelled the decision. Marai deserves to go based one her skating merit but that doesn’t sell hotel rooms and cereal. That’s also why you will never see an ugly figure skater from the US.

The Guru
January 18, 2014 at 03:19

@ Robert – To answer your question, let me do so with another question: Had the third-place skater been an African American (a Debbie Thomas-type), do you think USFSA dare to leave her off in favor of Wagner?

Don’t think so.

And if the ‘body-of-work’ argument is so paramount, then Edmunds should’ve been the one left off in favor of Wagner, since she’s never done much of anything until finishing second at the nationals. That was the same rationale for leaving Michelle Kwan off the team in 1994 for an injured Nancy Kerrigan (which I had no problem with).

So USFKA can either go with ‘body-of-work’ (Gold, Nagasu, Wagner) or the results of the nationals (Gold, Edmunds, Nagasu). It just can’t have it both ways and pretend that it’s a fair decision.

tc
January 19, 2014 at 07:21

I am an African American and I would have complained if Debi Thomas had been left off of the team after winning a spot . I have already written a complaint to the US Figure Skating Association about Mirai Nagusu and I am finishing a complaint to the US Olympic Committee. Ms. Nagusu should take the high road. The people should voice complaints loudly, clearly and repeatedly. If Ms. Wagner merited a spot on the team I would be silent. She did not and I will not. Once again the goal post was moved to change the outcome of a competition. It is time that practice stops.

EVA-04
January 18, 2014 at 01:44

After seeing the performance in Boston last weekend there’s no question Mirai Nagasu earned her position on that team. Despite having a spotty year of competition she performed very well in the clutch of the Nationals, being the only one of the major competitors in the women’s field not to fall on the ice (compared to Wagner, who fell twice).

It’s horribly obvious that USFSA broke their own unwritten rule on Nationals being the final tryout for the Olympic team, and there’s truth to the earlier comments that Wagner was already so invested by NBC and other sponsors that they couldn’t afford to lose face by having her not compete.

There’s another issue and that is that is that Mirai is somewhat of an outlier in the skating world: she has no main coach and doesn’t “follow the groove” of the other skaters. She didn’t fit the USFSA mold and by performing so well in Boston she embarrassed them. Rather than reward a young lady who came from behind to put on the performance of her live, instead USFSA grounded her (putting her off both the World team and the Olympic team) in favor of someone who they see as a symbol of their success. It will all come back hard on them in Sochi, I’m sure.

Well, at least its not as bad as having one of your skater’s husband hire thugs to kneecap your competition.

Deborah
January 17, 2014 at 21:55

First let me say I watched the skating that night. Second let me say that we see the quality of Mirai, not only in her skating, but in her attitude toward what was unfairly done to her and her personality in general. Ashley had an attitude that night, look at the tape as she was walking around waiting for her turn to skate. Perhaps that was what caused her falls. If the association thoughtshe had to go then they needed to bump the 15 year old, she will have another chance, not bump the woman who skated suberb and was the only one NOT to fall. With the way the world thinks of the USA these days I hope this group of skaters can pull out a gold, but I question that when one of the best chances was left behind.

manila ice
January 17, 2014 at 18:32

Ridiculous.

Everyone wants to be a part of the so-called “victim class” these days.

George
January 31, 2014 at 03:10

BS. You have merit or you have affirmative action. In this case it was affirmative action.

Robert
January 17, 2014 at 15:41

Had a non Asian American like Zawadzki, Cesario, or Hicks finished 3rd they would have been bumped for Wagner finishing 4th too. Anyone who knows jack all and has followed U.S skating the last 3 years knows this (which the writer apparently has not).

Jason
January 17, 2014 at 15:40

Of course it did.

Robert
January 17, 2014 at 15:39

The proof of the stupidity of this article and its suggestion is to ask this question. Had another contender, say Zawadzki (not Asian), Cesario (not Asian), Hick (not Asian) placed 3rd instead would they have been named to the team over Wagner. It was plainly obvious to anyone who knows squat about skating, that Wagner was going to be named to the team no matter what given that she has been by far the best U.S skater the last 3 years. The 2 highest finishers not named Wagner, in the unlikely event Wagner did what she did which was bomb Nationals, were always going to be the 2 to make the team. Nagasu getting bumped as the 3rd place finisher would have happened to anyone else. So I ask the blogger do you think Zawadzki or Hicks for instance would have made the team over Wagner if they finished 3rd. If your answer is yes then you really know nothing about skating.

Vivian Newell
January 18, 2014 at 22:23

@ Robert of STUPIDITY: your argument of non-racism doesn’t really hold given the official statement by USFSA. Apparently you came up with this theory of 1st two of Nationals when USFSA made up another bogie about ” body of work”. Nice try defending the racism and please don’t tell me that you somehow is related to minority…

Seng
January 19, 2014 at 10:22

You really need to get a life Bob.

guest
January 21, 2014 at 02:48

I do feel that the decision was based more on money than on race, though race had something to do with it. Ashley may have the most impressive resume in the last 2 years, but she also has a history of crumbling under pressure when it counted most. Wait, but how impreesive can she be if she has never lead the short programs in 2014? Along the same lines, she not only fell 2 times just in the free skate alone, but she also fell 3 times at nationals in 2013. Isn’t falling once one time too many to even place, much less get first place?? Getting gold after falling 3 times in one performance is unheard of already, but when an ex-olypian who rightfully earned her spot on the team gets replaced by someone who keeps falling, that’s outrageous. Never has a sport been this unfair to watch. It’s sickening to realize the extent of favoritism ashley has. And if she’s so good given her resume, then why couldn’t she beat mirai to get the bronze or polina (an inexperienced skater) to get the silver at nationals. If she’s the best skater, why does she choke not once, but twice last week when she’s under pressure? Even a junior skater outperformed ashley. How shameful. I’d be so embarrassed if I were her. If I were ashley, I’d resign or go to sochi as an alternate so mirai can be on the team. That way, my conscience would let me sleep at night. Bottom line….the top 3 finishers at nationals deserve to be on the team. It’s always been this way, except in cases injury, and anything else, would be wrong. Mirai has the better chance to medal in sochi. She has been to the olympics, she doesn’t choke under pressure, and she’s proved to us that a few weeks before the olympics, she is the better skater. I had already signed a petition asking the committee to put mirai on the team. I hope others will do the same if they think the committee’s current decision is unjust or shameful. Change dot org, if you want to make a difference.

rohjo
January 17, 2014 at 15:02

Look up petition at change dot org to US Figure Skating president Patricia St. Peter

[petition comment]

“Body of work” in this case is double standard; e.g., the “body of work” of Edmunds. As an appellate attorney and former chair of USFSA’s Ethics Committee, you should have guided Mirai through appeals process after her inquiry. She had no one of consequence to lobby on her behalf.

Given the investment of sponsors and NBC in Wagner, and Frank Carroll’s statement at nationals on Edmunds, “She is the future,” the USFSA’s selection looks tainted. It will not slip into a black hole of public memory, especially if Wagner bombs, again, at the Olympics, or if Edmunds, despite the market value of her speaking Russian in Sochi, fails untested expectations.

You have the diplomatic and political skills to review and retract your decision, which would polish the tarnished name of USFSA, and increase its future popularity and marketability.

Mae
January 17, 2014 at 14:05

People seem to forget that Michelle and Christi, tho both were great skaters, also had tons of sponsors. Michelle in particular probably had more sponsors than any skater as she was so loved. Yes Mirai should have been selected, especially over Edmunds who has NO senior wins save the current one. I read that NBC has already taped many commercials and has many sponsors so that is why they picked her but it doesn’t explain why they didn’t pick Mirai. I believe it was because Mirai probably would have placed higher than Wagner. The federation and her sponsors would not have wanted that so they didn’t select her. Mirai outskated Wager in 2010 and went to the Olympics over Wagner. She outskated Wagner at Nationals as well so they didn’t want to be embarresed by having the one who has been hyped be outskated at the Olympics. They said Wagner has the best chance for a gold medal at the Olympicss, what a joke. If anyone brings home a medal of any color it will probably be Gracie unless Wagners sponsors and USFS has bought off enough judges. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
required
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment
required

Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief