Olympian Mirai Nagasu, sports psychologist Caroline Silby host assembly on mental games


Photo courtesy of Mirai Nagasu, taken by Leah Adams
Photo courtesy of Mirai Nagasu, taken by Leah Adams

Jackson Prince, sports editor 

U.S. Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu and her sports psychologist Caroline Silby held an interactive assembly on the mentalities of athletes in the Salter Theatre on Friday, Feb. 28.

Nagasu’s case is unlike any other athlete in Olympic history, as her mind was put to the test by unfavorable circumstances.

In the 2014 U.S. Championships, the figure skater won bronze, which should have landed her a seat on the plane to Sochi. However, in an unprecedented move, fourth-place winner Ashley Wagner was awarded the third spot on the Olympic team, though Nagasu was perfectly healthy. According to NBC Olympics analyst Scott Hamilton, Wagner “earned her spot on the Olympic Team” by “winning nationals twice and placing high enough in the World Championships.” Usually, the top three at the U.S. Championships advance, but Nagasu’s third-place performance was not enough to unseat Wagner from the seemingly-predetermined spot.

In an exclusive interview with Highlights, Nagasu, from Montebello, Calif., recalled the “wave of emotions” that hit her.

“[The announcement] left me in a slump that took a while to get out of,” she said.

When Nagasu was presented with the chance to file a grievance against the U.S. Figure Skating Association, she chose to decline the opportunity.

“I thought about how I would have wanted my role model to react to the decision, and I decided that accepting defeat with dignity is the best way to handle a situation,” Nagasu said.

In order for Nagasu to successfully deal with losing a crucial opportunity at the raw age of 20, she was helped along by Silby.

The sports psychologist spent the majority of the assembly pushing the idea that, for athletes, the combination of a perfect game-day mentality, sheer talent and a bit of luck, provides the best chance at thriving. Silby found that “almost all athletes are affected by their attitudes.”

“With athletes, small actions can change everything,” she said. “And, in order to minimize the chance of something going wrong, they must work on their mental strength to face any number of possibilities.”

Nagasu’s prime example of the impact of the mind on performance was her own mental slip at the 2010 World Championships in Torino, Italy.

“I was in first place for the short program on the first day,” she said. “The second day, I dropped to seventh overall, after placing 11th in the long program. That day, mental games hurt my performance.”

Silby concluded her presentation by tying her message back to Beverly’s motto, “Today Well Lived.”

“Competition is all about going out there and performing well in the moment, without having any idea whether you will succeed,” she said. “When competing, the mind should be focused on the present.”

For Nagasu, the idea of “living in the present” applied not only to her skating, but to the entire Olympics fiasco.

“Honestly, it was hard to turn on the TV and watch [the Olympics], something that I’ve dreamed of for my whole life,” she said, though she noted that it was “exciting” to watch her gold-medalist friends Charlie White and Meryl Davis.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever fully recover, but I can’t dwell on the past,” Nagasu said. “My life can go on and I can finally focus on my preparations for next season. This experience will only have made me stronger.”