Ice Network

While in twilight of career, Carroll still going strong

Sage coach now lends time to other skaters as part of mentor program
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Polina Edmunds is very appreciative of the "fresh perspective" Frank Carroll has brought to her skating. -courtesy of Polina Edmunds

On his twice-weekly drives between his home in Palm Springs and the El Segundo-based Toyota Sports Center where he works, Frank Carroll likes to reflect. He thinks about his life and his coaching and his dogs. He also thinks about how easily he could have walked away from the sport four years ago.

"It was the perfect time to retire," the legendary coach explained in a phone interview as he drove down that familiar stretch of Interstate 10 in California. "But I knew I would be bored out of my mind. I can't sit still; I don't think I'm the type of person who could just be around the house all day."

Carroll had just helped Evan Lysacek to an Olympic gold medal -- the first of his storied coaching career -- when weeks later he got a call from Denis Ten, the diminutive yet bold skater from Kazakhstan.

"The only person I could see myself working with was Frank," explained Ten, a bronze medal winner in Sochi, where Carroll's familiar nod from the boards was a staple. "He has some magic around him, and Michelle [Kwan] and Evan have always been my idols. He was my only option."

So entered Carroll into a self-described "twilight" stage of his career. He picked up Gracie Gold at the 11th hour, just a few months before the 2014 Olympic Games, and committed to both the U.S. ladies champion and Ten this spring for another four years and the Pyeongchang Olympics -- where he'll be closing in on 79.

"I certainly have no intention of stopping as long as [Gracie and Denis] want to go on," Carroll said. "I wouldn't abandon them. I made the commitment, and I will stick with it."

In August, U.S. Figure Skating announced that Carroll would take on a mentor role for elite skaters and coaches. Polina Edmunds, whose coach David Glynn was a pupil of Carroll's, is one of the first to take advantage of the program.

"It's been very interesting working with different skaters who are so accomplished," Carroll said. "All the coaches have been very gracious and accepting of my position and what I've been doing. I never had the idea that I would be helping or critiquing them."

"Frank really worked on presentation with me and polished a lot of things in my programs," Edmunds explained in an email. "It's always great to have a fresh perspective; sometimes that makes a difference, because you're hearing it from someone new."

The unique approach that Carroll takes is something Kwan says is difficult to explain.

"In an interview, it's hard to put Frank into words to be honest," the two-time Olympic medalist said. "To me, he embodies this wealth of knowledge in figure skating; he's so passionate about what he's doing. That richness from day one is what I received."

As have Ten and Gold. The latter says she suffered from nerves when they first linked up in September 2013.

"I was definitely intimidated," Gold told reporters on a conference call. "I just didn't want to disappoint him."

All the skaters have memories of early-lesson jitters with Carroll, amplified for the Kazakh because of his then shaky English, which has improved in the four years he's been with Carroll.

"My English wasn't good, so he had to show me specific things," Ten recalled. "He's always on skates, but he would have to perform for me because of the language barrier. He would say, 'Oh Denis, I'm an old man, and you're making me skate for you!' It is something we both laugh about now."

Carroll says he is considering scrapping the drives to Los Angeles and basing himself full time out of Palm Springs, to where Edmunds travels to work with him some weekends.

As for the sport of skating itself, Carroll says officials have to find a better way to connect with audiences once again.

"Our sport has not become very audience friendly. It's disappointing," Carroll said, sighing. "I don't have any suggestions. We're dealing with a public that has lost interest in figure skating. But the philosophy of placing skaters and them having their own places moving forward, that has to be abandoned. The people in charge have to look at talent and ability and sometimes step over other people who are 'in line' and choose the ones who are talented and have great potential for the future."

Gold, for one, will have to continue to prove herself after her first U.S. title this past January and a fourth-place finish in Sochi.

"There are two areas that I have really tried to help Gracie with: consistency and her emotions," Carroll explained. "She's a brilliant jumper, but to do the same thing every single time is a little bit difficult for her."

Will the mentor program, headed by Carroll, lead to bigger and better things for skating in the U.S.?

"We've talked about this kind of thing before, but this is the first step, the first experiment in doing this," Carroll says. "What will develop from here, we will see. You have to see if it makes a difference. There's no point in doing it if it doesn't make a difference. You have to see change and progression."

"I think it is a great initiative by U.S. Figure Skating to introduce the mentor program," Edmunds added. "It's added something useful and exciting to my skating. It's always great when you can have someone to go to for advice."

For now, Carroll is happy to be a part of the program. In a few years, he sees himself moving toward a life less busy, not far down a road he's been traveling for so long.

"I'm at the twilight of my career, and the travel is hard on me now," he said. "When I reflect on my life, I think of how lucky I have been. If I had to go back, I wouldn't change anything. There have been a lot of bad times and a lot of happy times. It's been a very full career. I'm thankful for that."