Ice Network

Busy offseason finds Gold having to play catch-up

Wagner shows up in good form; Asada leaving out triple axel -- for now
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Gracie Gold is not in the shape she wants to be in, but she is ready to give it her all at Skate America this week. -Getty Images

Gracie Gold didn't have a great practice Thursday. Running through her free skate, choreographed by Lori Nichol to Ravel's lush Daphnis and Chloe score, she sat down on her big triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and wobbled on the landings of a few other jumps.  

She wasn't perfect, and that didn't matter. She's here at Hoffman Estates' Sears Centre Arena, ready to compete at 2016 Skate America, and that's an accomplishment in itself.

"I feel so good about it, just doing a run-through start to finish at a practice with all the spins and everything, just working on it," she said. "I wasn't feeling on the top of my game, per se. (It's) Thursday, first Grand Prix practice, long program -- rarely do people feel 10 out of 10 at that run-through.

"I just wanted to go after things and try to get legs under me," she continued. "I just wanted to push myself and see what I could do. Now I know what I need to do better for the long program on Saturday."

When Nichol selected Daphnis and Chloe for Gold, she may not have known how the ballet's theme of love lost and, after much searching, found again would mirror the start of Gold's season. The U.S. champion is upfront about how a disappointing free skate and fourth-place finish at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston got under her skin, to the point where she wasn't even certain she wanted to compete on the Grand Prix circuit this fall.

"I built it up to be this really big thing for me. It was hard for me to come back and build up again this summer," Gold said. "I wasn't depressed, per se, but close to it. I definitely wasn't myself. The people close to me were not worried, but they were like, 'You're not Gracie. Let's get going.' The last few weeks, especially, a lot of people have said, 'You're back,' and I definitely feel more like myself."

Travel and sponsor engagements took up much of Gold's July and part of her August, limiting her training time. To her coach, Frank Carroll, it's little surprise she's playing catch-up.

"We started at a low spot and went week to week," said Carroll, who trains Gold in El Segundo, California. "If you're an athlete who is used to training every day, being wined and dined and feted by sponsors and people that want you to be a spokesperson, you gain weight. It doesn't take much, a few pounds. She's lost some of it; she's trying hard."

Beyond improving her physical condition, Carroll also thinks his skater is coming to terms with the disappointment she experienced in Boston.

"She's progressed to looking at things from an emotional angle, to thinking about them intellectually, more calmly," he said. "She's getting her equilibrium back, and that takes a little time."

For Skate America, though, the time is now. 

"We're going to go for it and see what happens," Carroll said. "Nothing is going to be cut out of Gracie's programs."

The two sides of Ashley

Ashley Wagner is all honesty, all the time, and that extends to her programs: a short to Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, and a free to Muse's "Exogenosis: Symphony Part 3 (Redemption)," created with Jeff Buttle.

"The short program is who the world sees me as on the outside. It's a strong woman; it's showy and edgy and flashy," she said.

"The long program is (about) some twisted stuff I've had to go through in my life. It's like therapy for me every single time I skate it. It's about being OK, accepting yourself. Everyone has had that moment when everything goes bad and you want to start over."

It's early, but so far this season, the world silver medalist is in a good place. She arrived at Skate America on a high after a strong free skate at the Japan Open early this month. Since then, she and her coach, Rafael Arutunian, have focused on her triple flip-triple toe combination, which she said "felt solid."

"The technical side is still definitely my weaker side," she said. "In practice, I'm so strong and solid -- I know I can do it -- but under the pressure, I still get those downgrades. … It's about playing the quality game, and as long as the stuff I'm doing is primo quality, I'll be all right."

No triple axel for Asada

Like Wagner, Mao Asada is a strong storyteller on the ice, with high-quality choreography and transitions. Japan's three-time world champion also has her trademark triple axel to rack up points, but that jump won't be in her programs here.

"Last year, a little pain started in my (left) knee. I want to do clean programs here," she said, and then added, "Later (this season), if I am ready, I will do triple axel."

At age 26, Asada has competed on the senior international circuit for more than a decade. She's stood up to a lot of competition from younger Japanese skaters, and with a big win at Nebelhorn Trophy last month, a new challenger -- Mai Mihara -- has emerged.

"After Olympic Games, very many young skaters come up," Asada said. "It's usual."

Mihara, 17, was sixth at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season but has upped her game since then. She's sparkled in practices here, with clean run-throughs of both her short program and free skate, which include a triple flip-triple lutz combination.

Asked if she was awed by practicing at her first Grand Prix alongside Asada, Mihara said, "No, I don't get nervous. I just want (to skate) clean programs."