Gracie Gold from the United States competes in the ladies free skate during the 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic September 16, 2012 Salt Lake City.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Gracie Gold doesn’t come by this sport of hers naturally, even if she may look to be natural.
Her grandmother roller skated, she said, but that wasn’t her introduction to figure skating.
Rather, Gold went to a friend’s birthday party, and after the pizza and cake were eaten and the presents were unwrapped, Gold found her way onto the ice for a free skate session.
Hooked at age 8, she’s now 17 and finding her way to the top of the United States hierarchy with personality, style and a budding confidence. All the while, Gold is trying to keep hold of what those close to her love the most — a friendly spirit.
It is a work in progress, her coach conceded, but well worth the effort.
“She’s just such an outgoing, friendly person,” said Gold’s friend and competitor, Melinda Wang, who trains part time with Gold’s coach in the Chicago area. “She’s just amazing — jumps, spins, everything. She has such a great family, very supportive, and you just know this is what she loves doing. I think she can go far.”
Gold also has what Americans, and perhaps the skating world, would love to watch at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Yes, start with the name. Gracie Gold. Almost too good to be true, right?
Her coach, Alex Ouriashev, said the two joke about it all the time. He says, tongue firmly in cheek, he’s convinced that somehow the “Gold” has been shortened from something else. He calls her “Double-G.”
However you coin it, it’s got some pizazz.
She’s reclaiming that sparkle on the ice, too.
Gold is just starting to get U.S. skating experts excited about her abilities, too. After a U.S. woman failed to make the Olympic medal stand in 2010 — marking the first time since 1964 — Gold appears to be a possibility to start a new streak in 2014.
Used to her major growth spurt, and more confident with the spotlight, Gold is training full time in the Chicago area after being raised in Missouri. She now does internet-based schooling.
And she’s catching the attention of some of the biggest names in the sport. Legends, like Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, have raved that she is the near future for American hopes for medaling at the next Olympic Winter Games.
“It would be a great opportunity; a dream come true to be selected (to the U.S. Olympic team),” Gold said. “It’s long in the future, though, 18 months away.
“It’s great to hear those things from people though. We’ll see. That’s everyone’s dream. But mostly, you just have no idea how hard it is. Everyone just says, ‘I can do that.’ ”
Although there is plenty to be excited about with Gold, the 2012 U.S. junior national champion and the world junior silver medalist, she still has plenty of seasoned competitors with whom to contend. One is the current U.S. champion, Ashley Wagner. Internationally, there’s Japan’s two-time world champion Mao Asada, Russia’s world silver medalist Alena Leonova, among others.
This past weekend in Salt Lake City, Gold went skate to skate with another U.S. teenager, Agnes Zawadzki, at the 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. Although Gold landed two triple-triple combinations and won the free skate with 111.78 points, she couldn’t catch up to Zawadzki, who held the lead after the short program.
Zawadzki earned her first international victory at the senior level with 172.95 points. Gold racked up 171.15 in her first international senior competition as an individual.
Gold first competed as a senior in the 2012 World Team Trophy in April, where she and seven other U.S. skaters earned a silver medal together.
This season, Gold’s short program is to “Hernando’s Hideaway,” and her free skate is to music from the soundtrack, “Life is Beautiful”.
Ouriashev admitted that Gold “was nervous; a little bit out of focus.” She also had to skate a longer program since senior routines are a half a minute longer than ones in the junior ranks. Gold’s lone fall came on a triple flip at the end of her program.
“It’s a different style than my short program, much more classical by comparison,” Gold said. “It’s a really beautiful piece and I just have to keep working to improve it. It’s only September, so it’s really early in the season, but I think it’s coming along nicely. It wasn’t perfect today, but I think it was a valiant effort.”
Perhaps Gold’s biggest flaw is also part of what makes her so attractive: Some may say that she is too easy-going.
To calm her nerves before going on the ice, Gold is often an avid juggler. Even if it’s close to show time, she will stop and say hi to anyone who walks by. Ouriashev goes back and forth about this complexity, calling her an “extremely beautiful person” while also noting that she is still seeking that laser-like focus.
“She’s just very social,” Ouriashev said. “Very supportive, too. You know, nobody would blame her — call her a bad person — if she didn’t say hello right before she went on. Everyone would understand. But that’s just not who she is.”
Right now she’s ironing out a short program to “Hernando’s Hideaway” that is supposed to accentuate her innate ability to jump — what Ouriashev said separates his pupil from a lot of the competition.
He calls style, spins, music and the program the “side dishes” of a skater’s repertoire. But in the skating world, to keep the restaurant metaphor rolling, the jumps are the steak entree.
Gold has more than a name that could sizzle internationally.
Gold also has added a triple lutz jump in which the skater lifts both arms above the head. Not many skaters have done this in competition. Brian Boitano did the jump with one arm lifted in the air. U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon is known for performing the triple with both arms lifted.
Gold is scheduled to compete in two Grand Prix events in the fall, and competition will take her to Canada and Russia. They will be big moments in her career, as she learns to garner more focus while keeping the joy of first lacing up a pair of skates. They also will be her first major senior international competitions.
“Improve competing, that would be the thing to get better,” Ouriashev said. “Otherwise, Gracie has everything. It will all come with experience and maturity.”