Go For The Gold


Gracie Gold poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee
promotional shoot on April 23, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.

Gracie Gold had just finished up a long final day at her first major international competition of the season. After slipping from first place after the short program to third overall in Skate Canada, and then completing the requisite awards ceremony and media interviews, the U.S. figure skater was finally free to leave the arena.

Instead, she smiled for the cameras and stayed around for a while. And when one reporter, who had just learned of Gold’s knack for juggling, asked if Gold could display her skills, Gold happily obliged. She grabbed some juggling balls she had handy in her bag and started juggling in the middle of the press room.

“It’s a focus thing,” said Gold of juggling, which has become part of her pre-event warm-up routine. “I think it does translate onto the ice a little bit.”

At the United States Olympic Committee’s Media Summit last month in Park City, Utah, where many Olympic hopefuls went through intense rounds of media interviews and photo shoots, Gold estimates she juggled about nine times, tossing around whatever was handy, such as a trio of apples.

It’s of little wonder that Gold doesn’t mind these juggling acts. It’s probably the easiest part of what has become a dizzying routine. With fewer than 100 days until the start of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Gold has been juggling a lot more than a handful of apples lately.

One of the top figure skaters in the country — Gold is the 2013 U.S. silver medalist and placed sixth in her debut at the world championships earlier this year — Gold is trying to keep a lot of balls sailing perfectly in the air.

Not long after a disappointing showing in September at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, Gold announced she was leaving her longtime coach in Alex Ouriashev and was moving with her mom and twin sister, Carly (also a competitive figure skater), to the West Coast to train with one of the top coaches in the country in Frank Carroll. She had to find a home, adjust to a new training facility and coach, squeeze in schoolwork and try to secure one of three spots to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi, Russia.

Even between practice and competition at Skate Canada late last month, Gold spent time in her hotel room writing up an art critique on photography by Carleton Watkins for an online course. (She plans on graduating from high school this winter.)

“That is real-life juggling,” she said with a laugh.

Although she has only been a California girl for a little more than a month, Gold seems to be enjoying the transition. Gold, 18, was born in Newton, Mass., outside of Boston, and lived there until she was about 4. Then her family relocated to Springfield, Ill., where they still have a home. For a while, Gracie, Carly and their mother, Denise, a former emergency-room nurse, rented a home in the Chicago suburbs so the girls could train with coaches there, but a little more than a month ago, the women of the Gold family moved to Southern California.

Gracie Gold poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee
promotional shoot on April 23, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.

Gracie, Carly and Denise Gold now live in what Gracie called, “the most adorable turquoise and white beach house,” located about four-and-a-half blocks from Manhattan Beach. (Their father, Carl, an anesthesiologist, continues to live in Springfield.) It’s a two-bedroom home, and Gracie and Carly share a room with a bunk bed. There is a trundle bed that Gracie pulls out to sleep on, though, and she loves that she can slide it underneath to keep the room neat during the day.

“I can keep the room really organized,” Gold said. “I’m pretty OCD, so I’m really happy.”

Gold is enjoying being by the beach and living the Southern California lifestyle, but she didn’t move across the country for the sand and the sunshine. Instead, she came out West to train in the Toyota Center in El Segundo, Calif., with Carroll — the man who guided Evan Lysacek to an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver in 2010 and the man she hopes will be the key to her reaching her Olympic dreams in Sochi.

Growing up, Gold never envisioned her skating life would take such a turn. She and Carly were active in a slew of activities ranging from dance classes to swim team to gymnastics. They started skating when they were about 8 after attending a friend’s birthday party. Soon, they were taking group lessons at a nearby rink, and then they moved up to private lessons. At first, Gracie was the one more into skating while Carly was the one into horseback riding. Then Carly made skating her primary activity, too.

Neither Denise, a recreational tennis player, nor Carl, a high school football player, was involved in skating themselves, but they liked keeping their kids active, and skating seemed to be a good outlet.

“What I liked about skating was just sort of having the ability of doing something that not many other people can do well,” Gracie Gold said. “I did have a very natural ability on the ice when I was young. I never really needed to hold onto the boards. I remember learning how to do crossovers and a two-foot spin and being able to jump over the blue line. That’s part of what attracted me to the sport, there were all these hurdles for me to cross.”

Pretty soon, Gold was landing single Axels and then doubles and started moving up the competitive ranks. In 2006, when Gold was still a low-level skater, she and her family traveled to St. Louis for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and all of the American Olympic gold medalists were in attendance for that event. The Olympic Winter Games in Torino were held shortly afterward, and Gold remembers going to a rink gathering to watch Sasha Cohen on TV.

Competing in the Olympic Winter Games herself, however, seemed so lofty back then.

Four years later, as Mirai Nagasu, Rachael Flatt and Ashley Wagner were vying for spots on the U.S. Olympic Team in Vancouver, Gold was competing in the novice ranks and placed fourth at nationals.

“I thought at those nationals, ‘OK, maybe three or four years from now, I’ll be competing in seniors,’” Gold said. “I never thought then, ‘OK I’m preparing myself for the Olympics (in 2014).’”

Her rise through the lower levels took a devastating halt, however, in 2011 when she was competing at the junior level and failed to qualify for nationals. The top four skaters from sectional competitions make it to nationals, and Gold finished sixth. To this day, Gold calls it a “life-defining moment.”

The following year she not only qualified for nationals but won the U.S. junior crown.

And then the expectations started mounting. And mounting. And mounting.

Americans have long had a passion for figure skating and have been seeking a women’s Olympic champion since Sarah Hughes won gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City. The United States hasn’t had a dominant women’s figure skater since Michelle Kwan — winner of nine national titles, five world crowns and two Olympic medals. Kwan last competed in 2005. Ever since, only one woman has won the U.S. crown twice (Wagner, 2012-13).

So when Gold came around, with her huge jumps, bright smile, classic look and a golden name to boot, it

Gracie Gold performs during the ISU World Team Trophy
on April 14, 2013 in Tokyo.

seemed everyone began to latch on to this young skater as the next great hope for American skating.

So Gold entered the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships making her senior-level debut at nationals but being considered one of the skaters to beat, if not the one to win the title. Nerves caught the best of her and she placed ninth after the short program. Only two women would make the world team, and it appeared as if Gold’s chances were now out of reach. But Gold stormed back with a riveting performance, landing seven clean triple jumps to win the free skate and earn a berth on the world team.

But the momentum shifted again this season, beginning with the poor showing in Salt Lake City and then compounding shortly after when she upended her world by changing coaches and moving across the country.

Gold told reporters at the USOC’s Media Summit that she stopped working with Ouriashev when “it became clear that we couldn’t work out some of our relationship issues. And, truthfully, it’s all about change. People change, situations change and it became clear to me and those around me that I needed a change.”

Coaching changes happen in figure skating happen frequently, but for a rising star to leave her coach and make a cross-country move so soon before the Olympic Winter Games came as big news in the skating world. So no one knew what to expect from Gold when she arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick, at Skate Canada.

But she won the short program with a sense of both confidence and maturity. She was only on the ice for less than three minutes, but her time there left a lasting impression: She seemed to be telling the world that she had made the right choice.

“He's trying to take all the voices and all the doubt out of my head,” Gold said.

Carroll agreed that the biggest hurdle in coaching Gold is not in her technical abilities but with helping her maintain her confidence.

“I call her 'Gracie Warrior Princess,’” Carroll said. “I want her to be a warrior and not scared. It doesn't matter how much people tell you how wonderful you are — you have to believe it for yourself.”

Although Gold wasn’t as sharp in the free skate at Skate Canada as she was in the short program,she said was pleased to be leaving with a Grand Prix medal and was happy with the overall direction of her skating.

Carroll, too, left Saint John on a positive note.

“She needs to get tougher,” he said after her free skate. “We have work to do. But there was nothing devastating and there was nothing exciting about it.”

Carroll is 74 but seems to relate well to his new teenage pupil. He has worked with some of the best skaters in the world, having guided Kwan through much of her career, as well as Lysacek to an Olympic gold medal and Linda Fratianne to an Olympic silver medal in 1980.

Now, in a compressed time frame, he is charged with guiding Gold to gold. It’s a big job, and he said he is still learning about Gold as a person let alone as a skater. Carroll said he did not know Gold at all until she made the move to train with him.

Now the two of them are in this road to Sochi together. And as Carroll put it, “If you make the Olympic Games, you have to know that going for gold is a different philosophy than just staying on your feet.”

Gold said she is ready, especially with Carroll at the boards.

“Frank has almost a century of figure skating behind him,” Gold said. “And you want to have an experienced guy along for the journey.”

Carroll, who has been around the sport for a long time, joked that it hasn’t been quite that long, saying, “It's more like a half a century.”

Afterward, the two of them laughed about Gold’s comment. And if that’s biggest slip Gold has between now and Sochi, they will both be just fine.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she has covered two Olympic Games and two Olympic Winter Games. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.