SOCHI 2014

By Paul D. Bowker | Feb. 19, 2014, 5:34 a.m. (ET)

Gracie Gold competes in the ladies free skate portion of the figure skating team event at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 9, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

A piece of Gracie Gold’s brilliance surfaced in the team figure skating competition more than one week ago at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Gold jumped and skated her way to a season-best 129.38 score in the women’s free skate, helping Team USA to a bronze medal in the inaugural Olympic team event. Only Russia’s wunderkind Julia Lipnitskaya had a better free skate.

Gold’s performance might have been a glimpse of what was to come in the women’s individual competition, which begins with the short program on Wednesday in the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia. The free skate is Thursday.

Gold, 18, is an athletic 5-foot-5 package of energy who won her first senior national championship at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, unseating two-time national champion and fellow 2014 Olympian Ashley Wagner. The victory at the nationals in Boston earned Gold her first Olympic berth just two years after she burst onto the scene as the U.S. junior national champion.

Oh, and she’s a pretty good juggler, too. The juggling helps her relax and maintain focus away from the ice. Other skaters turn to their headphones; Gold juggles.

“Juggling has always been my thing,” she said.

Gold leads a trio of American women into the Olympic competition. Wagner, who skated in the short program portion of the team event, is the best-known American following back-to-back national titles in 2012 and 2013, a bronze medal at the 2013 Grand Prix Final and a gold medal at the 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard. Fifteen-year-old Polina Edmunds, who finished runner-up to Gold at the 2014 nationals, will make her Olympic debut Wednesday.

Strong performances at the nationals and in the Olympic team competition might have boosted Gold’s medal potential in the midst of a stacked women’s field. The lineup includes Lipnitskaya, already the darling of the home Russian crowd; Mao Asada of Japan, a two-time world champion and silver medalist at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games; and Yuna Kim of South Korea, the gold medalist in Vancouver.

“Yulia is a machine and she’s an excellent skater,” Gold said. “But when it comes down to the competition, it’s not always about who the best skater is; it’s about who skates the best in that competition. Whether or not somebody is more talented or more flexible, it’s about who’s going to put out that best performance. … We’re just going to try to beat her at her own game on her home turf and just leave everything out on the ice.”

The last American to medal in women’s figure skating was Sasha Cohen, who won the silver medal at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Prior to missing the podium in 2010, U.S. women had medaled in every Winter Games since 1968.

Gold’s path to Sochi has been remarkable. Just four months before the 2014 national championships, she left her hometown of Springfield, Ill., and training town of Glen Ellyn, a Chicago suburb, to move to California and train with Frank Carroll, one of the top skating coaches in the country. He helped guide Evan Lysacek to a men’s gold medal in Vancouver and in these Olympic Winter Games he guided Denis Ten to the bronze medal in the men’s competition.

“He’s quite a character,” Gold said of Carroll. “He’s so wonderful and wise, but very quirky and funny at the same time. He doesn’t take anything too seriously, there’s been no mind games.”

The result has been a different Gold, a skater who has become as artistic in her skating as athletic. She also worked with a sports psychologist to improve her mental game.

And now she is on the biggest stage of her life with the world’s best skaters.

“I remember just a couple of years ago I was watching my role models in the Olympics,” Gold said.

Now she is in them.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.

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