Considering that last year's podium consisted of skaters who were 22 (Mao and Yuna) and 26 (Carolina) and those three skaters are also consider the "big three" contenders for the Olympics, I'm not sure why you feel that Gracie is washed up because she's 18.
Not everyone can hit it out of the gate on their first try like Mao and Yuna did. Those two are exceptional cases. Heck it took Davis and White four world appearances before they got a medal and look where they are now.
Also I will make this point: Yes at one time U.S. easily got world medals and three spots in the 1990s into the first half of the 2000s But the level of competition has gone up A LOT from that time period.
After Yuko Sato won her World Championship in 1994, Japan did not show up on the podium for 10 years when Shizuka Araakawa won her world title. Japan is now a singles powerhouse, but that is much more of a recent occurrence.
U.S. main competition from 1994 to 2006 was mainly from Russia with a few skaters from other countries mixing it up. Today the U.S. has to compete with Japan, Russia and a handful of outstanding skaters from a number of countries including Italy (Carolina), South Korea (Yu-Na), Finland (Laura Lepisto, and more recently Korpi), Canada (Kaetlyn).
Also let's look at debut placements from U.S. women from 1993 to now:
Tonia Kwiatkowski: 31st (1993)
Lisa Ervin 13th (1993)
Michelle Kwan: 8th (1994)
Nicole Bobek: 25th (1994)
Tara Lipinski: 15th (1996)
Sarah Hughes: 7th (1999)
Angelia Nikodinov: 12th (1999)
Sasha Cohen: 4th (2002)
Jennifer Kirk: 18th (2004)
Kimmie Meissner: 1st (2006)
Emily Hughes: 8th (2006)
Alissa Czisny: 15th (2007)
Bebe Liang: 10th (2008)
Ashley Wagner: 16th (2008)
Rachel Flatt: 5th (2009)
Mirai Nagasu: 7th (2010)
Gracie Gold: 6th (2013)
So as far as debuts, Gracie Gold ranks 4th behind Kimmie, Sasha and Rachel.
The top American ladies just got a major boost from the news just out that Yuna will not compete in this year's Grand Prix season
Doesn't mean it'll get any easier though. There is still Ando who, despite her absence, remains a threat near the top and will take Kim's place on the GP, most likely.
Ando would have to WIN at Nebelhorn to get on the replacement list, and only on the bottom of the list, at that. Most of the ladies would have to withdraw for her to get an assignment. The only other way would be for one of the Japanese ladies withdrawing from a host spot, and even then the JSF might not give her the spot.
While I wish that Korpi and Kim were still competing in the grand prix's, it would be of interest to see how their withdrawals affect the American ladies. IMHO, SC was one of the toughest, if not the toughest, competitive fields. With the departure of Kim and Korpi from SC, Gold will be in a position to compete for a gold, and will be a favorite to be on the podium. Gao, who previously had no chance at a podium, now at least has an outside chance, but probably will end up 5th instead of 7th. Korpi and Kim were also assigned to TEB, which was already one of the weakest fields. If Ando won't be a replacement, the only thing between Wagner and a gold medal at TEB, is Sotnikova. Gao also benefits at TEB (as well as SC), going from a long shot at a podium to having a good shot at a bronze. Wagner and Gao are clearly the biggest American beneficiries of the withdrawals. I think Wagner can already pack her bags for the GPF. Gold has some obstacles removed from SC, but still has a tough field against her at NHK, where even a bronze will be an accomplishment. Gold might end up with a 2nd and a 3rd and a shot at the GPF. Mirai has now what are the two toughest GP's, NHK and Rostelecom. I previously thought Mirai might finish higher overall than Gao, but Gao's prospects have improved significantly at both her GP's, while the opposition Mirai will face at NHK and Rostelecom remains formidable and undiminished. Cesario has the same easier fields as Wagner, but I still don't expect her to compete for a podium. The Zhang of 2012 4CC could compete for a bronze at SA, but we didn't see that Zhang in 2013, so she remains a long shot. Agnes has never been competitive in the GP's. She is assigned to the weaker field at CoC plus Rostelecom, but I don't expect her on a podium.
^ if I learned one thing out of all this...it's not as simple as moving everyone up one spot when a top competitor pulls out...
Will be interesting to see the "re-match" between Gold and Hicks at Skate Canada
Looks like Hicks is getting the SC spot, and LaCoste the TEB opening!
I certainly didn't mean to to imply Gracie is doomed, as someone suggested. Gracie and Michelle both started serious training at the age of 8 (someone suggested Michelle was a lot younger than Gracie when she started). According to her bio, Frank will be Gracie's 5th coach. It would be interesting to know why so many changes occurred. Some possibly were not equipped to handle her talent. Of course, Michelle had nerves of steel. Hopefully Gracie will improve in that area so she can fully realize her talent.