Mirai Nagasu finds herself in a better place

The connection had only audio, but you still could see Mirai Nagasu smiling during a media teleconference last week.

Both the tone of her voice and the content of her answers transmitted an image of happiness.

It was an emotion that long had been muted publicly in Nagasu, making the sound of it the most pleasant of surprises, especially since her Grand Prix results this season would not seem a cause for joy.

"This is the first time in a couple years I'm actually really excited to go to nationals and show everyone what I am practicing and what I am capable of," Nagasu told the media on the call.

At age 23 -- yes, still only 23 and about to make a 10th straight appearance in the senior division at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships -- it felt as if the 13-year-old version of Mirai Nagasu was with us again.

That is the Nagasu who charmed everyone with not only her insouciance but also her skating after becoming the out-of-nowhere upset winner of the junior ladies title at the 2007 U.S. Championships.

Who could resist the story Nagasu told then about sleeping on a cot in a storage room at her parents' sushi restaurant until its closing time? Who wasn't later captivated by her unaffected, stream-of-consciousness ramblings at an official pre-competition press conference at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games?

As I wrote that day in Vancouver:

"Three forces of nature blew into the area late last week.

"Rain, snow and Mirai Nagasu."

Nagasu would finish fourth at those Olympics. At 16, the sun seemed ready to shine on her for years to come.

That forecast was wrong.

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