Gracie Gold’s sparkling senior debut

Gracie Gold competing at the 2012 Rostelecom Cup

By Kitty Xie

2012 U.S. Junior Champion Gracie Gold should be a senior this year. She should be worrying senior worries about college applications, graduation, and finding a date to prom.

She should be parking her electric blue Mini Cooper in the student lot and trekking to first period through the dusk.

Instead, the seventeen-year-old sensation passed a chilly November weekend not studying or shopping with friends, but in Moscow competing at the 2012 Rostelecom Cup, the fourth event of the season-opening Grand Prix circuit. The second-youngest skater and one of three women representing the United States, Gold led a field of ten ladies after the short program.

Gold, who began taking lessons at the age of eight, showed enough precocious talent to convince her parents, Denise and Carl, to relocate to the Chicago area for better coaching. She faced physical and mental stumbling blocks in her competitive career until last season, when she took the skating world by storm with a golden finish at the 2012 U.S. Junior Championships, clearing the competition by a margin of more than twenty points. Then, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, she squeezed between Russian prodigies Julia Lipnitskaia and Adelina Sotnikova at the 2012 World Junior Championships for silver.

She received her invite, her engraved ticket to the big girl parties, to the Grand Prix after deciding to skate this season as a senior. The ambitious transition meant tougher competitors and a greater emphasis on artistic maturity, a chronic weakness for many juniors, but also the opportunity to learn from veterans like Olympic champion Yuna Kim. At Gold’s first senior event, the 2012 World Team Trophy, she finished a decent fifth, and everyone breathed a little easier.

Over the summer, Gold and her coach Alex Ouriashev painstakingly engineered her debut programs to stage an unforgettable entrance. Her flashy short, set to the tango piece Hernando’s Hideaway, and her magical, sparkling free skate to music from the film Life Is Beautiful intended to showcase the two sides of Gold that would make the U.S. federation stamp its feet and shout an unequivocal “Yes”–the fiery, spunky seventeen-year-old and the budding young woman, lovely and camera-ready, gliding across the ice.

Then, for two horrible days in October, it all seemed ready to implode into the shattered remains of broken dreams and unfulfilled potential.

At 2012 Skate Canada International, Gold’s first Grand Prix assignment, the harsh lights and shaky unfamiliarity planted a seed in the back of her mind that germinated throughout her performances, causing major errors and landing her a disastrous seventh of ten. Those who had touted her as the paradigm of cool confidence began wondering if she could take the heat. Others questioned in sly but inflammatory whispers whether Gold was the most reliable option for America’s precious second entry to the 2013 World Championships next March–the first being, without a doubt, reigning U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.

For a skater with less fortitude, such defeat at the height of expectation would have been crushing. But Gold, demonstrating the fighting spirit–guts, if you will–that U.S. skating so desperately needs, quietly picked herself up, laced her boots, and returned to the ice for the two-week window between Skate Canada and the Rostelecom Cup. She had gotten a feel for how things worked at the senior level, and with the assistance of her family and coaches, adjusted with remarkable resilience.

In Russia, up against a Russian national champion Adelina Sotnikova, a World medalist Alena Leonova, and a European medalist Kiira Korpi, Gold’s prospects seemed even more daunting. But with diminished pressure and the nerves held in check, she wasn’t going to let another medal slip between her fingers. With steely resolve, she executed a flawless short program and placed second overall by virtue of her signature powerful jumps, trailing Finland’s Kiira Korpi by just over two points. Her Skate Canada fumble, however, left her ineligible for the Grand Prix Final.

Now Gold is, yet again, a favorite to fight Wagner for the U.S. title next January. Although the more critical fans have continued to express a not-unfounded skepticism about her lack of interpretative expression, especially in the lyrical free skate, Gold believes she can make the necessary changes in time to clinch that qualifying spot for 2013 Worlds. She and fraternal twin sister Carly, also a competitive skater, have since resumed training in Chicago–sadly, the same weekend as Gold’s Russian rebound, Carly suffered severe disappointment at the Midwestern Sectionals, falling just short of the fourth-place qualification for Nationals.

The season may be halfway done, but the greatest hurdles still lie ahead for Gracie Gold. She has yet to perform a completely clean free skate this season, and if she is chosen for the World Championships, the pressure will be on to take home a top-ten finish to bolster America’s waning reputation in the figure skating community. And with all the hype flying about her head, someone has surely mentioned the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in a mere fourteen months.

Luckily for Gold and the public, she isn’t squeamish about expressing what she wants: to enjoy every moment of winning. And how will her many absences from class stack up? It should come as no surprise that Gold has had that issue in the bag from day one–she and Carly have been enrolled in online school since their sophomore year, and as Gold notes with a combination of satisfaction and relief, the sacrifices are finally paying off.

Photo: The Mail

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