By Nick McCarvel | Jan. 22, 2020, 4:37 p.m. (ET)

Gracie Gold poses for a head shot at the Team USA PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics portraits on April 28, 2017 in West Hollywood, California

 

Back under the bright lights of center stage in the world of figure skating, 2014 Olympic team medalist and two-time U.S. champ Gracie Gold is OK to accept – at least for now – a supporting role this week at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Though don’t doubt she’d like to – at some point soon – be leading lady again.

“We’re hoping for two clean programs, like everyone. That’s the goal,” Gold, 24, said in an interview last month about her return to nationals. “That’s what we are training for. Even if it’s not perfectly clean, I don’t want to land things with a hand down. I want to execute the way that I do in practice.”

Appearing at the U.S. championships for the first time since 2017, Gold has had as challenging of a three-year period as anyone could imagine, as the once-golden girl of American skating fought through issues with depression and anxiety, as well as an eating disorder.

In the fall of 2017, Gold spent 45 days at an in-patient therapy facility in Arizona, dealing with and working through darkness that had built up for years and came crushing down on her at the world championships in Boston, in 2016, when she just missed out on a podium finish after leading the women’s event following the short program.

In the more than two years since leaving said facility in Arizona, Gold has moved to the greater Philadelphia area to work and train at IceWorks, a skating and ice hockey center, where she’s now coached by Alex Zahradnicek and Pasha Filchenkov.  

“I feel like I’m at IceWorks more than my apartment,” she told me on the phone, laughing.

What’s always been a trait of Gold is her singular, almost obsessive focus: First for her skating and her success in it, but then with her insecurities and – in turn – what she ate, her weight gain and the patterns that led her to darkness.

On the other side of that now, Gold has taken the long road to Greensboro, going through U.S. Figure Skating’s qualifying events this past fall, first at what’s known as regionals and then sectionals, where Gold – via qualifying scores and placements – eked her way into the field for the big dance.

She said she’s been working on improving day in and day out since then.

“It just wasn’t that good… I was so nervous,” Gold said of her free skate in mid-November at the Eastern Sectionals Championships. “I almost felt like running away for a minute. It was like, ‘I think I bit off more than I can chew.’ When you’re in your starting position, sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh my god. Why am I doing this?’”

Gold did enough, however, to qualify, and has set out for a “copy-and-paste” training regimen at IceWorks where she works week-in and week-out, running through her free skate Friday afternoons when she is the most tired and it’s the most challenging.

Those are the kind of routines she hopes will pay off in Greensboro.

Comebacks are hard in top-level sporting events, but the kind of comeback that Gold is attempting is nearly unheard of.

“There are skaters who have come back from injuries or a long time away from the sport, but there aren’t that many people to look at who had an existential, quarter-life crisis and got as out of shape as I did and then came back,” Gold shared, candidly. 

To bolster that process, she’s had the support of 2014 Olympic teammate and longtime friend Jeremy Abbott, who she’s worked with for choreography of her two programs this year, as well as other familiar skating names in Jason Brown and Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

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“I adore Jeremy,” said Gold of Abbott. “And Jason and I go way back to our Chicago days. In 2008 or 2009, Jason and I actually competed against one another in a jumping event at Wagon Wheel (a Chicago-area skating club), which is like this cult favorite there. Jason won by a landslide obviously. He’s a gem. He has always been there for me, forever.”

Skating at this level won’t be there “forever” for Gold, however, which was the crux for trying this comeback now: She had to try or she’d never forgive herself. Even if she doesn’t get that ‘leading lady, one-to-beat’ status back, at least she knows she gave it her best shot, and – more importantly – found a healthy life again while trying for as much. 

Through the process, Gold has made some unexpected friendships within the Olympic community, as well, working with 28-time Olympic swimming medalist Michael Phelps on an upcoming mental health project, as well as Katie Uhlaender, a four-time Olympian in skeleton. 

While the glare of the lights might be bright in Greensboro, Gold sees it as her last stop before a big offseason in which she looks to take things to another gear. She’s been working on quadruple jumps and triple axels in practice on a jump harness, and says she actually looks forward to that coming work this spring and summer and what it might bring out in her on the ice.

Gold said fans should expect to see her attempt full-throttle programs in both the short and the free skates in Greensboro; she wants to leave it all out there.

“I don’t really believe in something watered down,” she said. “[Nationals] could be the final stage of the year for me. Why not (go for it)? In training, everything I do in my long program I can do… and comfortably.”

Now she has to do it with the world watching. 

And, no matter what happens, figure skating is lucky to have back one of its great stars. 

Nick McCarvel is a freelance reporter based in New York City. He will cover his fourth Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020, for TeamUSA.org this summer.