Ice Network

'Transformed' Gold eyes podium finish in Sochi

Carroll-coached skater believes she has the goods to hang with the best
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Thanks in large part to the guidance of Frank Carroll and Lori Nichol, Gracie Gold is regarded by many as an Olympic medal contender. -Getty Images

Whenever someone watches Gracie Gold in practices here in Sochi, inevitably there has been one reaction: My, how she's changed.

Over the last five months, the only constant in Gold's life has been change. She's changed coaches, made a cross-country move from Illinois to California and even changed her short program, all within an Olympic season.

Considering where this brief timeline began and where she is now, there's little question that the changes have been for the better.

Just months ago it seemed Gold's career was in shambles. She was popping double Axels, failing to win minor competitions and leaving her longtime coach. The pressure became so great that she was crying at the dinner table, fearful she'd be left off the Olympic team.

"She was really, really crumbling," said Gold's mother, Denise. "There was this general sense of fear in this last year. It's hard to live under fear."

Now, as the U.S. champion readying for the ladies short program Wednesday night, the 18-year-old Gold has emerged as one of the names bandied about as a medal contender. Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic champion, went so far as to say Gold has been "transformed."

Most of the talk has centered on South Korea's Yu-Na Kim, who is trying to become the first back-to-back winner since Katarina Witt, Russian dynamo Julia Lipnitskaia and 2010 silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan, but Gold has been pushing closer and closer to the big three as the Games roll on.

She's always had the Grace Kelly look and the perfect skating name, and now she seems to have the skating goods to go along with the rest of the package.

"I think Gracie is now one of the favorites," said Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko, who coaches Ukraine's Natalia Popova. "She showed in the team event that she is technically as strong as Julia. She's polished."

Much of the credit for her 180-degree turnaround goes to Carroll. The veteran coach who guided Evan Lysacek to the gold medal four years ago in Vancouver and the man best known for molding Michelle Kwan into a champion, Carroll took on the challenge of remaking Gold for these Games.

"What Frank brought to her was this sense of calmness," Denise said. "She's just a calmer person right now."

Although Carroll didn't have much time to revamp Gold's skating, he used every second he had to try and do so. They went to her first Grand Prix of the season as a trial run, seeing what she could do with the programs she had. After her second Grand Prix, the NHK Trophy, where she finished fourth, Carroll sent his student to Toronto to work with choreographer Lori Nichol.

Carroll wasn't happy with Gold's short program, which was to the music of George Gershwin's "Three Preludes." The music, Carroll said, sounded "like cats fighting," and he needed a piece more calming for Gold.

Nichol sat Gold down and had her watch an interview with the late pianist Artur Rubinstein. The point was to get Gold to zero in on the artistry of her skating. After Gold watched the interview, Nichol played a piano concerto by Edvard Grieg, and Nichol said, "Gracie loved it."

"Of course, Frank had told her before she came to me to do everything I said," Nichol said with a laugh. "But I could tell that she really liked the idea and she understood it. I felt Grieg had exactly the right atmosphere for Gracie."

"The new short program suits me better," Gold said. "It's like a nice breath of fresh air."

When Gold stepped out onto the ice at the U.S. championships to perform the short program for the first time in competition, she skated as if the program were an old glove. Wearing a bold red dress to match her now trademark red lipstick, she skated with a confidence that radiated throughout Boston's TD Garden. She floated through her opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination and continued that momentum to the end of the program. 

She went on to win the national title and, of course, be named to the Olympic team.

Gold made a strong statement at the start of these Games in the team competition, in which she finished second to Lipnitskaia in the free skate portion. Although Gold held her own on the technical side, Lipnitskaia had a significant edge in components.

But unlike a year ago, when Gold was nervous around the likes of Kim, just hoping to get the star's autograph, these days she seems more at ease among the top skaters in the world. Gold has learned one thing from competing against Lipinitskaia: "She is beatable."

In practices leading up to the ladies event, Gold has been producing solid run-throughs. Even when she is not perfect, she seems more apt to push her way through the program than she did in the past. The message Carroll has tried to impress on his protégé is this: "You don't have to be perfect to be the best."

More importantly, to her mother at least, is that she is smiling. Whatever the result might be from these Olympics, Denise said, "She is loving [skating] again."