8:57 PM CST, January 8, 2014
Her first name describes the refinement and polish figure skater Grace Elizabeth Gold embodies at her best, enhancing her huge, difficult jumps and the luminous smile she outlines with her trademark red lipstick.
Her last name says what she's pursuing this week in Boston at the U.S. figure skating championships: her first senior-level national title and a place on the U.S. Olympic team at the Sochi Games. The women's competition will begin Thursday with the short program and will end Saturday. The top three finishers are expected to be nominated to the Sochi team.
Gold, known as Gracie, 18, finished second at last year's U.S. championships, soaring from ninth after the short program on the strength of her top-ranked free skate. She followed that by finishing sixth at her first senior-level world championships, one spot behind two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.
Since then, Gold has moved from the Chicago suburbs to the South Bay to be coached by the venerable Frank Carroll, who guided Olympic medalists Linda Fratianne, Tim Goebel, Michelle Kwan and 2010 champion Evan Lysacek. Carroll has improved her skating and her mind-set since they began working together in late September.
"He wants me to skate more like a woman instead of just like a wonderbaby," she said after a recent practice in El Segundo.
"It's been wonderful. I think it's been exactly what I needed. He's full of wisdom and he's very good at calming everything down and breaking everything down, not just charging into everything."
Their collaboration has been complicated by their decision to scrap Gold's short program. After she finished third and fourth in her two Grand Prix competitions, Carroll decided her program to George Gershwin's jazz-influenced Three Preludes wasn't working. Besides, it had drawn mixed reviews in the skating community.
"It sounded like cats fighting and very screechy, and I just felt she's such a beautiful girl, she needed something more beautiful," Carroll said. Instead, she will skate to Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor as created by choreographer to the skating stars Lori Nichol.
Gold has envisioned how this week will unfold. But unlike most skaters, she doesn't picture herself standing atop the medals podium.
"I visualize the ending at nationals. Just that ending position," she said. "That last spin, and then the ending. And then hopefully the audience explodes and there are gifts raining down."
With an Olympic berth following the cascade of plush animals and bouquets.
"I'm not going to nationals to participate. I'm going to nationals to win," Carroll said. "I'm not saying she will win. I never count my chickens before they're hatched and I don't make predictions in skating because so many times you can be completely wrong. But I never approach a championship without thinking that we're going to win and we're doing a great job.
"She has the beauty and the talent and the athletic ability. She's a lovely package."
Gold also is driven and disciplined. Growing up with her fraternal twin, Carly, who also skates competitively, Gracie was "bossy" but focused. The family moved several times: The twins were born near Boston but lived in Missouri, Texas, and Illinois and tried many different sports, including swimming.
"Just coming to the pool every day, there wasn't a goal. There wasn't a new stroke to learn," Gold said. "In skating there's always another jump or another spin variation or another thing to learn, and that's what I liked about it. There was always a short-term goal within the long-term goal."
She would carry her basic skills book and check off each task; she still creates detailed plans, such as doing three sets of five double axel jumps or triple jumps in a session, to give herself a sense of completion.
Her plans didn't include being distracted by the coaching switch and move to California, where she lives with her mother, Denise, and sister in a "cute" 1920s-style rental home. The family plans to stay here no matter what happens in her skating career.
"We couldn't let it be a disruption," she said. "At the point when we moved we didn't have time to travel back and forth and look around. It was just sort of a mission and we just accepted the challenge of moving and changing coaches and lifestyles."
The move has raised her profile off the ice, as she has added CoverGirl cosmetics to her enviable list of endorsements. But that's secondary to taking the next step in her pursuit of her goal. She and Wagner are the favorites for the U.S. title, with 2010 Olympic fourth-place finisher Mirai Nagasu of Los Angeles and two-time U.S. bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki the likely challengers.
"I think if I just do what I do every day, on the extraordinary Olympic stage, I could be a podium contender," Gold said. "I think that I'm one of the names for the podium. I think it will be interesting. There hasn't really been a competition this year that combined everyone, like worlds or the Olympics does, and if at worlds last year I was sixth when I left a lot of points on the table…
"I think there are seven people that if everything fell into place could get a medal."
That's as good as gold. Or Gold.
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