Historically, American ladies are among the strongest teams to compete on the international figure skating scene. However, with a five-year podium drought at the World Figure Skating Championships, American fans are getting antsy for the next big star to materialize.
So after a summer of strong competitive showings, it was no surprise when 16-year-old Gracie Gold was thrust into the spotlight heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships two months ago in San Jose.
“I’m not going to be the new Michelle Kwan,” Gold pointed out. “She was a senior at 12-years-old, and now she’s in the Hall of Fame. That’s her story. Sasha Cohen was this flexible diva (in a good way), and that’s her story.”
“I’ll have a different story,” Gold continued. “I didn’t do anything big until this year. I won a pewter medal as a novice, which is not too shabby, but I’m just starting to do things. I don’t know what my story is going to be, but I hope it turns out as well as theirs.”
Gold is a confident and consistent skater—her competition scores have hovered right around the high 160s and mid 170s all season long, and she isn’t afraid to compete.
“I know what my goals are,” she said confidently. “Skating is fun, that’s why I do it, but I don’t skate just for fun. I skate because it’s a sport that I chose to excel at. I have goals, and I’m going to fight to achieve them. I think that you should always try to grab them. Sometimes you miss—like last year at Sectionals, but I think that it’s always important to try to make them happen.”
Last year’s sectionals were the 2011 Midwestern Sectional Championships where Gold finished in sixth place, missing the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships by two places.
“I don’t think that I embraced it,” she explained. “I didn’t see myself at nationals. My whole first year of junior—especially after Sectionals, I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential. Each competition had one or two mistakes, and I really wanted to start putting out clean programs. I wanted to look at it, and say, ‘Wow. That was really good’.”
So immediately after the competition, Gold went back home to Chicago and began working with coach Alexander Ouriashev to prepare for the 2011-12 season.
“As soon as Sectionals were over, we started upping the technical content of my programs which in turn helped my confidence,” she explained. “I was landing a flip-toe, Lutz-toe, and Axel-toe, and all of a sudden, landing a solo Lutz in my short program didn’t seem that difficult.”
And while the top four from the Midwestern Sectionals were competing in Greensboro, Gold was at home perfecting her craft and preparing to make a huge splash in the next season.
“Right about Nationals I started hitting (the triple-triple combinations) regularly,” she said. “I don’t think that I could have won (in Greensboro) because I wasn’t mentally ready. It was just the turning point when I could see that the consistency of the triple-triple was happening.”
Gold continued to work hard during the off-season, and was well prepared when the summer competition season arrived.
“My first competition after Sectionals was a local competition called Northern Blast,” she said.
Her season debut was a successful one—second place in the short program and first place overall, and she just got stronger from there. Gold entered and won two of the U.S. Figure Skating monitoring competitions—Skate Detroit in July and Glacier Falls in southern California just a few weeks later. As a reward, she received an invitation to skate on the Junior Grand Prix in Tallinn, Estonia, in mid October. It was the first international event for Gold, and she earned it without qualifying for the previous season’s national championships.
“(Junior Grand Prix Estonia) was exciting for me,” she explained. “The invitation was unexpected since I didn’t compete at Nationals, but I made the most of it.”
Though she won the competition, Gold was unable to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final since she competed in just one event. Nevertheless, the competition set her up nicely for a run at the U.S. title in Januar, as well as a spot on the Junior Worlds team. The talk of Gold becoming the next big thing started to snowball.
“Most of the expectations I sort of ignored because they were sort of irrelevant at the time,” she said. “People were telling me about Sochi and telling me to learn Russian. I was like, slow down. Sochi is still two years away, and though it’s close in terms of time, it is light years away in terms of training.”
Gold then came up against her biggest hurdle yet—the 2012 Midwestern Sectionals in Fort Collins, Colo., in November, where she won the title by more than 20 points. The win qualified her for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose—her first on the junior level.
Of course everyone knows by now that Gold came away with the title in San Jose, winning the title with the highest score ever recorded by a junior lady at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
“I feel satisfied,” she said. I had all of these expectations placed on me, and I did it. I did pretty much everything that people expected me to do—maybe even more. I feel proud of myself that I was able to go through that and come out on top.”
Gold’s win in San Jose earned the 2012 U.S. Junior Ladies gold medalist a trip to the World Junior Figure Skating Championships earlier this month in Minsk, Belarus, where she came away with the silver medal.
“I was really nervous for the short program,” Gold said of competing in Minsk. “I was in the first warm up, and I knew that I would have to wait a long time before I knew where I stood in the competition. I knew that I was capable, and I had a strong skate. Waiting wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
Gold finished in second place in the short program, and headed into the free skate with a strong chance of medaling.
“It was very exciting to skate in the final group, and it was an overall great experience,” she said. “Winning the silver medal was marvelous, and was a personal victory for me in that I was able to do everything that I could do that day.”
While in Minsk, Gold was able to take some time to play tourist.
“My mom, coach, and I went to the circus while we were in Minsk,” she said. “It wasn’t far from the hotel, and the whole show was so great. It was a traditional circus with some really cool acrobatic numbers. I just really enjoyed the whole show.”
Looking forward to next season, Gold is mum on what her plans will be in terms of international competition, but it is almost a given that she would move up to the senior level for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
“I will be getting two new programs for next season,” Gold announced. “I will be working on refining my skating skills—enhancing and embellishing them as part of my development. Beyond that, I have not decided what the plan will be for the new season.”
Gold will continue to work with coach Ouriashev, and will continue her relationship with her support team as well.
“He has a really strong jump technique,” Gold said of her coach. “I like it because he takes anyone regardless of level, and he makes time for them.”
Choreographer Scott Brown is anxious to get started on preparing the World Junior silver medalist for the new season, and has a laundry list of things that he wants to develop with Gold.
“We will work on creating a balance of the technical elements and continue the presence of art and creative thought,” Brown said. “I will remind her to hear and feel the music so she can skate all the movement from her soul, and then she will be able to connect more with the audience.”
Brown will also focus on helping to make Gold’s new programs more Code of Points friendly.
“We will work to develop more interest in transition both in and out of the elements,” he said. “We’ll also broaden her music scope to find interesting new programs that have not been done in the sport over and over.”
Gold also works with Oleg Epstein on stroking, and does harness work with Oleg Podvalny.
“We call him ‘Poleg’ because he works with the harness pole,” Gold said with a laugh.
Gold also skates with twin sister Carly, a junior level skater who finished in 10th place at the Midwestern Sectionals this season.
“We’re really close of course, but we do seem to be opposite sometimes,” she explained. “Up until recently when I darkened my hair, she always had the dark hair, and I had the blonde hair. Our skating styles are different. Even our favorite colors—I like pink, purple, and gold, and Carly likes green, blue, and silver. We have different tastes, but we are very close.”
One thing that they have in common is that the Gold sisters hope to qualify for the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, next year.
“I think that it would be really fun,” Gold said of having her sister compete at the same nationals. “She told me that she’s planning to be there next year. It would be awesome for us to both be there and hang out in the skater’s lounge with each other.”