Ice Network

Gold becomes more complete skater under Carroll

U.S. champion promises to show a 'gentler' side of herself in Sochi
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Frank Carroll (right) and Scott Brown have combined to give Gracie Gold just the guidance she needs heading into next month's Olympic Games. -Getty Images

In Boston earlier this month, Frank Carroll shared the words of wisdom he used to help inspire Gracie Gold to her U.S.-championship-winning performances.

"I tell her, 'You don't have to be perfect all the time,'" he said. "You can make a mistake and keep going, and it all still works.'"

Those words proved true a few days later, when Gold ran away with her first U.S. title, some 19 points ahead of the field. A step-out and hand down on a triple flip in her free skate didn't kill her momentum. Just seconds later, she landed a solid triple Lutz out of a back spiral.

On a media teleconference Friday, the 18-year-old echoed her veteran coach's words.

"Not everything has to go perfectly," she told reporters. "I've learned I am a little bit better of a skater than I thought. I should trust myself more often, and I should not have as much anxiety and nerves."

Gold's ability to shine at the pressure-filled, pre-Olympic U.S. Figure Skating Championships is yet another feather in the cap of Carroll, the 75-year-old coach who led Evan Lysacek to Olympic gold four years ago and guided Michelle Kwan to many of her U.S. and world titles.

Back in September, competing at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, a tentative Gold put out shaky performances and settled for a silver medal behind Courtney Hicks. Soon, she announced she had left Chicago and coach Alexander Ouriashev to train under Carroll at the Toyota Sports Center in Los Angeles. Just four months later, she looks ready to take on the world.

"People always label me as a frantic skater," Gold said. "Frank said, 'Calm down, take a breath, bend your knees.' I was a little bit anxious, a little bit frantic. I'm definitely tightly wound, and so we really worked on that."

Scott Brown, who sat in the kiss and cry in Boston with Gold and Carroll, gives the veteran coach full marks for strengthening Gold's mental game.

"She has really become even more committed to her training, to running a program," Brown said. "Frank is a stickler when it comes to running programs. Gracie learned she can still be wonderful even with a mistake. At nationals, she had that mistake on the flip, and she didn't let it ruin the program."

Brown has worked with Gracie since 2011, when she and her twin sister, Carly, trained under Ouriashev in Chicago. He was primarily a choreographer, creating the programs Gold used to win the 2012 U.S. junior title as well as the U.S. silver medal last season.

Now, as secondary coach, he has traveled to Los Angeles from his home base in Denver three times over the past few months to work with Carroll and Gold. He accompanied Gold to the NHK Trophy in November, where she placed fourth in a tough ladies field.

"Alex is a very, very strong jump technician -- really a genius when it comes to jumps -- and he did a lot for Gracie," Brown said. "I think Frank would be the first to say that. But she skated before with a lot of angst. She has grown up a lot in the last three or four months."

Part of that is simply experience and maturity. Last season was Gold's first on the senior circuit, following a brief international junior career that included just one Junior Grand Prix and the 2012 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, where she won silver behind Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia.

"People forget that," Brown said. "She came onto the senior scene with great expectations from everyone.

"At NHK, we watched Mao [Asada] and thought about all she has been through -- the ups and downs of her career, her mother dying -- and how she has been on top for so long," he continued. "Now, Mao has another chance at [Olympic] gold. As an athlete, Gracie has learned that anything is possible, if you put in the time."

Time would seem hard to come by in the lead-up to the Sochi Games, with Gold granting countless interviews and even doing a guest spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno demonstrating one of her favorite relaxation techniques: juggling lemons. But the teen shrugged off concerns.

"It hasn't been hard to stay focused," she said. "It's 'Oh, wait, I'm competing in the Olympics in just two weeks.' Juggling on The Tonight Show is awesome and exciting, I've had wonderful opportunities, and then I go home and I have an Olympic banner hanging and an Olympic jacket on the couch, and I just know instantly what time I am getting up in tomorrow to train for the Olympics."

Carroll was in Chinese Taipei last week, accompanying pupil Denis Ten at the 2014 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. (The world silver medalist placed fourth.) In his absence, Brown coached Gold at the Toyota Sports Center.

"We had a solid week of training; she was monitored on Tuesday, had a media day on Wednesday," he said. "She is really grounded. She's a very smart girl. She's managing everything really well."

Reporters asked Gold to rate her medal chances in Sochi, where defending Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim, Asada and 15-year-old wunderkind Lipnitskaia are among the favorites.

"I definitely have a chance at medaling; I think a lot of people do," she said. "It's really who is going to stay focused, who is going to leave everything out on the ice. The Olympics really is about throwing everything [down] and just saying, 'This is what I have -- can you beat it?'"

Gold was sixth in her world's debut last season. It will take more than her jumps -- which include a consistent triple Lutz-triple toe combination, the same combination Kim has used with much success -- to compete with the top ladies in Sochi.

After NHK, Carroll encouraged Gold to scrap her short program and go to his favored choreographer, Lori Nichol, for a new, softer routine, set to Grieg's "Piano Concerto." He and Brown also worked to enhance the musicality of her free skate to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, originally choreographed by Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein.

"We have really tried to get her to connect with the audience every day in training, not just at the competitions," Brown said. "People label her as a jumper, but she is not just a jumper. ... Me, Frank, Lori, Marina and Oleg -- everyone has worked to increase her skating vocabulary. You can see it in both programs."

Gold thinks judges and fans will see a warmer performer in Sochi, one that reaches out more than her younger self ever did.

"You'll see a lot of the warm Gracie, and not just the athletic Gracie," she said. "Every day after we're done with jumping and doing run-throughs, we take time to appreciate the nuances in the music and the points in the program where I can really connect with the judges and audience and have that warmth about my skating. Not just a smile but the feeling of warmth that kind of lights up the arena."  

And Carroll will be by the boards saying, "Calm down. Take a breath, Gracie. Bend your knees."