8:31 PM EDT, September 13, 2012
A year ago, Gracie Gold began the figure skating season in total anonymity.
One disastrous result in the fall of 2010 had relegated her to the sport’s remainder bin. People stopped believing in her, and Gold stopped believing in herself until turning for help to a sports psychologist.
“I felt like an unknown — because I was,” she said. “I also felt I could be this really good skater, but no one had ever heard of me.”
A year later, she faces a completely different situation heading into her first full season of senior-level competition.
Gold, who turned 17 last month, was the revelation of U.S. skating in 2011-12. Her talent and promise looked so stunning, coaches and officials could not stop gushing last fall after she won a Junior Grand Prix event and the same qualifying event for nationals, where she had bombed a year earlier.
She responded to the accolades by winning the U.S. junior title in a rout, getting a silver medal at the World Junior Championships and acquitting herself respectably in her senior debut at the World Team Championships last April.
Now everyone is watching to see if Gold can go from there to the Sochi Olympics, less than 18 months away. An early test — although with a weak field — comes at the inaugural U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, where Gold competes Friday and Sunday.
“I’m glad for the attention,” she said during a break between practices at the Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills, one of the two suburban Chicago rinks where she trains.
“I sort of like being in the spotlight, even if that does come with added pressure.”
Gold, who lives in Elk Grove Village and is a senior in an online high school program, isn’t burdened yet by being the face of U.S. skating. Not with reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir returning to competition after two years off, not with Ashley Wagner coming off a strong rebound season that brought her a U.S. title and fourth place at the World Championships. Not before Gold does her first significant senior individual competitions on the Grand Prix circuit this fall.
“I really need to establish myself,” she said. “I need to do well at my (two) Grand Prixs to show I can be a contender.”
Wagner will be favored to repeat as national champion. There are just two spots for U.S. women at the world meet.
Gold’s coach, Alex Ouriashev, is “80 percent sure” she will get one of the two.
“Only a medical reason, an injury or sickness, can stop us,” he said. “She is the same very good jumper but a different skater, much more mature, with a real understanding of music.”
That has been apparent to judges who watched Gold perform her new programs this summer at minor competitions in Milwaukee and Detroit and at U.S. Figure Skating’s recent Champs Camp. Callow artistry and frequent expressionlessness had been her major shortcomings a year ago.
“She has really improved, style and extension-wise,” said Charlie Cyr, an international judge. “The entire quality of her skating is better.”
The short program, to the upbeat “Hernando’s Hideaway,” already looks very polished. The free skate uses some ironic and some largely monochromatic sections of music from the Holocaust story film, “Life is Beautiful.” It will be a much greater interpretive challenge for Gold all season.
Gold has added a “Rippon lutz” (a triple lutz jump executed with both hands above the head named for 2012 U.S. runner-up Adam Rippon), a triple flip-half-loop-triple salchow jump sequence, more complicated flying spins and an eye-catching spiral sequence to her technical repertory. She remains one of the few women doing a triple lutz–triple toe jump combination.
Her performance at the World Team Trophy, fifth in a singles field that included the top five finishers from the 2012 individual World Championships, gave Gold the feeling she belonged with the top skaters.
A virtual horde of talented Russians, led by world junior champion Julia Lipnitskaia, 14, loom as medal contenders for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Reigning Olympic champion Kim Yuna of South Korea has said she is coming back.
“I still have to work on confidence a little bit,” Gold said. “I know I am pretty competitive with them, but it’s another big step to get to the level where they are.”
She took a bigger one last year, from a career-swallowing abyss to the top of awards podiums, from not making nationals to national champion.
It was the step from “Who?” to “Wow!”
Twitter @olyphilA year ago, Gracie Gold began the figure skating season in total anonymity.
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