Gracie Gold practiced what her coach Frank Carroll preached.
Ever since Gold began working with Carroll back in September, he has had one main message for her: You don’t have to be perfect to be the best.
Once prone to let mistakes on the ice overwhelm her performances, Gold has learned to fight through any problems. Exactly 10 days after earning team bronze in Sochi, Gold was gritty in her individual short program, grinding out the landings on her triple-triple combination and her double Axel and now finds herself in striking distance of an Olympic medal.
“When I was in the air on some of those jumps, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. What is this?’” said Gold, who is in fourth place with 68.63 points entering the free skate Thursday evening. “’This is not a good feeling.’ I knew I had to fight because it’s about throwing it down.
“It’s all about points,” Gold added. “I think we saw in the men’s event, the points game was maybe what saved Yuzuru [Hanyu] in winning the gold, that lead in the short. There’s a big difference between doing a triple Lutz-triple toe and a triple Lutz-double toe.”
“When I was doing the double Axel, I thought, ‘I have come too far not to land this stupid double Axel. I did not train that hard to go down or mess up this one jump. I am landing it with a smile on my face.’”
South Korea’s Yuna Kim, the 2010 Olympic champion, is the leader with 74.92 points, followed by Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova (74.64) and Italy’s three-time Olympian Carolina Kostner (74.12).
Gold is the top American while two-time national champion Ashley Wagner sits in sixth (65.21) and 15-year-old Polina Edmunds is in seventh (61.04).
Wagner was downgraded for the landing on the back end of her combination jump but overall skated a strong routine to music by Pink Floyd.
Before she entered the triple-triple combination, Wagner told herself, “Girl, you need to get your butt up in the air and rotate three times the best way you can,” but said ultimately nerves resulted in the downgrade.
Entering the free skate, she said, “I have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.”
Wagner performed the same short program in the team competition, in which she under-rotated the combination, and was caught in the kiss and cry with a now-Internet famous “not impressed” look a la gymnast McKayla Maroney. Then, Wagner was scored 63.10 points, so her scores in this portion of the Olympic competition were an improvement.
“Wow,” Wagner said. “I can’t believe that that scored higher than my team event. I thought that it was going to be a little lower than that. But at same time, I felt I really performed that program and I felt I got the spin levels that I was really looking for, so that helped boost the technical mark.”
Edmunds, meanwhile, who is competing in her first senior-level international event of her career and is just one year removed from winning the junior national title, is in seventh place.
Skating to a Latin-themed program, Edmunds held her own in her Olympic debut. Although she was called for under-rotating her triple-triple combination, she had nice flow throughout her program and handled herself with confidence.
“It was definitely fun to skate on the Olympic ice like that,” Edmunds said. “I was hoping to skate a good program, a clean program, and I did. I just wanted them to see what I could do in the elements and I'm happy they (judges) recognized that.”
For Edmunds, the trip to Sochi has been a special one for her and her family as her mother, Nina, is from Russia and trained to be a skating coach in this country. Although Polina’s primary coach is David Glynn, Nina also helps train her daughter and laced up skates for Polina when she was just a toddler.
Some reporters questioned Polina in Russian after her skate. Edmunds, who was born and raised in the California Bay Area, can understand Russian but prefers to speak in English.
“It's been so special because my mom spoke to me and my brothers in Russian at home, so to be here in another country where everybody is speaking Russian and I can understand it is pretty cool,” Edmunds said.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she is covering her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.