10:25 AM EST, March 4, 2012
For a young woman unknown to everyone but figure skating deep insiders until late last fall, Gracie Gold did not lack a sense of her fast developing identity.
"I've stirred up a buzz with my skating, and I hope to continue to skate as well as I have been," Gold told me in a December interview, not long after her sparkling performances led to a surprise win at a Junior Grand Prix event. "It feels good to have everyone watching me."
She justified the attention, winning the U.S. junior title in January with a record score and taking the silver medal Saturday at the World Junior Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
"I dreamed this was possible, but I never really knew if I could do it or not," Gold said via telephone from Minsk. "Now that I have, all my hard work seems to have paid off."
While she was well behind the winner, the prodigious Russian talent Julia Lipnitskaia, the 15.20-point difference in their final scores did not faze the 16-year-old Gold.
"Julia skated almost perfectly, and I had some mistakes," Gold said. "I think that accounts for it."
Lipnitskaia, who does not turn 14 until June, skated almost perfectly the entire season, her consistency as dazzling as her spins and jumps, her performance skills more refined than those of most skaters years older.
Lipnitskaia had 187.05 points to 171.85 for Gold. Adelina Sotnikova of Russia was third at 168.45.
(For video of Lipnitskaia's free skate, click here. For video of Gold's, click here.)
The winning score was 7-plus points higher than the previous record at junior worlds, byJapan's Mao Asada in 2005.
Only three senior women have higher scores than Lipnitskaia's this season, topped by Ashley Wagner of the U.S. at 192.41. Given that juniors do one fewer free skate element than seniors, the Russian's number is roughly the equal of Wagner's.
"It was a great ending for a great season," Lipnitskaia said.
Lipnitskaia won all eight phases of her four major international junior competitions this season: junior worlds, Junior Grand Prix Final and two Junior Grand Prix meets.
In those events, she did not fall a single time and received negative grades of execution on just nine of the 72 elements she did, with no negatives at junior worlds.
Gold, who trains in the Chicago suburbs but comes from Springfield, Ill., finished second in both the short program and free skates at worlds and had positive grades until a slight mistake on her final jump Saturday. She had doubled a planned triple loop earlier in the free skate.
Because she entered worlds with an insubstantial international reputation - and reputation counts, no matter how much figure skating officials try to paint their new judging system as objective - Gold was among the first group of 30 skaters in Friday's short program. She felt that hurt her scores.
To close the gap with Lipnitskaia, Gold said, "Once I get my name out there, it will be closer. And maybe just having a little more performance."
While Lipnitskaia already has what skaters like to call "the complete package" of artistry and technical skills, Gold at this point is an incredibly powerful and dynamic jumper with good spins and lesser ability to relate to music and the audience.
But Lipnitskaia still is a willowy girl, while Gold already has gone through some of the physical changes that accompany womanhood and can cause a skater to struggle with jumps. There is no telling what will happen to the Russian over the two years before the 2014 Olympics.
Barely a year ago, Gold had failed to qualify for junior nationals when a growth spurt undermined her confidence. Now she is skating with an assurance that gave the United States a medalist at junior worlds for the ninth straight year, including medal sweeps in 2007 and 2008.
Junior achievements have seemed like fool's medal to U.S. women. No U.S. woman has won a medal at senior worlds since Kimmie Meissner's gold in 2006, and only six of the 20 U.S. women's junior medalists prior to Gold since the event began in 1979 have stood on the podium at the next level.
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