February 11 was another typically busy night at Restaurant Kiyosuzu, an unassuming Japanese eatery in Arcadia, Calif. Kiyoto Nagasu stood behind the counter preparing everything from a myriad of different rolls to tonkotsu ramen. His wife, Ikuko, greeted customers at the door and ran from table to table taking orders.
The dinner rush was so hectic that Kiyoto and Ikuko missed watching figure skater Mirai Nagasu—their daughter—perform a historic program to lead the United States to its second consecutive team bronze medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
"It’s so busy at the restaurant, so we are waiting to go home and watch [on DVR]," Ikuko said over the phone to USA TODAY Sports. "We are very happy because we heard it went well."
They were undoubtedly thrilled once they got home, as Mirai became the first American woman in Olympic history to land a triple Axel en route to the second best score in the ladies’ free skate (137.57—a personal best). After Mirai all but clinched a repeat bronze for Team USA, two more Japanese-Americans, Maia and Alex Shibutani, finished the job in the free dance.
The Axel is the most difficult jump in ladies’ figure skating, requiring skaters to take off from a forward outside edge and rotate in the air before landing on the back outside edge on the opposite foot from which they took off. A triple Axel requires three-and-a-half rotations—a maneuver so difficult that even the weight of the glue and the rhinestones in Mirai’s dress had to be considered in preparation for the Olympics.
Successfully landing the jump was a symbol of Mirai’s perseverance after she debuted at the 2010 Vancouver Games at the age of 16, only to miss out on a spot on the team four years later.
“I don’t think I would’ve worked as hard on the triple Axel if I hadn’t had that time [after Sochi] to concentrate and decide to,” Mirai on a media teleconference before the start of the Olympics. “It was a conscious decision to make a comeback—even though I hadn’t taken a break.”
But before she burst onto the world stage, Mirai spent a great deal of her childhood at Kiyosuzu: Because Ikuko and Kiyoto didn’t hire a babysitter, Mirai slept in the restaurant’s storage closet while her parents worked at night until she was 14.
She would also steal the occasional bite. Those snacks were a particular highlight thanks to Kiyoto’s penchant for going off-script from conventional Japanese cuisine.
"My dad is a very creative type of person, so he has rolls that make no sense to most people familiar with sushi," Mirai said to USA TODAY Sports. "He has a Hi Five roll. What is that? Don't ask questions. Just try it.”
Kiyoto also invented the Mirai Olympic Roll—an occasional special menu item that he named after his daughter when 1992 Olympic champion figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi came to visit the restaurant: It contains tuna, tuna tatako, avocado, mentaiko (pollock roe), shrimp and tempura. You would never know the special item’s inspiration now, though. After all, Mirai—whose name appropriately means “the future”—has captivated the world much like Yamaguchi did during her illustrious career.
And Yamaguchi never landed a triple Axel.
Kiyoto’s creativity rubbed off on Mirai, and she credited her father’s innovative spirit for inspiring her on the ice.
"He's kind of mischievous, and that's how I am, too,” she said. “I like to be bold and different and to go and try things. I believe in adventure and imagination, and I got that from my parents and the things I experienced as a child."
The Olympics is perhaps a bigger adventure than anyone in the family could have dreamed. For that reason, Restaurant Kiyosuzu will close for the first time in years later this month—just for a week—as Kiyoto and Ikuko fly to PyeongChang to watch Mirai compete in the ladies’ individual event.
"The business is important, but it is special to be able to watch Mirai," Ikuko said. "We will shut the restaurant, go quickly and come back quickly."
Mirai will see her parents in the Gangneung Ice Arena stands on Feb. 20. For that reason alone, it will be a moment she will never forget.
“My parents are more excited than I am,” Mirai said. “My dad—as the owner and sushi chef at the restaurant—that restaurant is his baby. And his life dream. For him to close the restaurant even for a week and to come watch me skate, it means the world to me.”
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