Ice Network

Confident Gold moves forward, by taking step back

Visit to former coach 'flipped a switch' for defending U.S. ladies champion
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A visit to former coach Alex Ouriashev may help Gracie Gold recapture the form that helped her reach the top of the podium at the 2016 U.S. Championships. -Getty Images

Four minutes in Croatia may have changed Gracie Gold's fate at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City, Missouri, next week, and perhaps the trajectory of her career.

Regal in a shimmering gold dress, she took the ice at the Dom Sportova for her free skate at Golden Spin of Zagreb, a B-level event assigned after she failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. A few stumbles and popped jumps later, she was just going through the motions, her revered coach Frank Carroll grim and stoic by the boards. She left the ice a golden shell, with a sixth-place finish and her worst scores in years.

"It was a wake-up call for me," the U.S. champion told reporters on Thursday. "It occurred to me, I needed Alex. I needed to get out of my own head. I needed a change of pace. I needed a jumpstart, some change of air."

Chicago-area coach Alex Ouriashev began training Gold in 2008, leading her to the 2012 U.S. junior title and a senior U.S. silver medal the following season. But in August 2013, with the Sochi Olympics on the horizon, Gold parted ways with the Ukrainian-born coach and joined Carroll in Los Angeles.

While turning to Ouriashev was a surprise, Golden Spin was just the final stop on Gold's humbling fall campaign, which also included subpar performances at Skate America and Trophée de France.

Unable to move past a disappointing free skate at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, where she dropped from first after the short program to fourth overall, Gold took much of the summer off, working with sponsors and traveling with her twin sister, Carly.

"She basically didn't train regularly all summer," Carroll said at Skate America.

It showed. Gold's big triple lutz-triple toe loop combination too often deserted her; she had triple flip trouble. And as always, she carried the shame of Boston.

"I was literally at the top of my game, and then I had two mistakes [in the free] on my combo and my lutz, that I hadn't missed in practice," she said. "I couldn't explain to people, 'I fell down twice, I was fourth, I was really sad and then it ruined my whole fall, too.'"

The gracious and eminently practical Carroll encouraged his pupil to spend a few weeks in Chicago after Christmas. Making the call to Ouriashev, who had been upset at her departure, was the hard part. They hadn't had any contact since Gold's move to California.

"I didn't know how he felt about me," she said. "Three years is a long time."

But Ouriashev, who had already received a heads-up call from Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating's senior director of high athlete performance, was ready to help.

"You will always take care of your kids, whether they are six or 65 years old, no matter [if they are] juvenile skaters or national champions," Ouriashev said. "If someone is in a bad moment, you help."

The voluble Ukrainian -- whom Gold called "animated and pushy as ever" -- thought it had been a mistake to leave Gold to her own devices all summer. Yes, she was 21, but she wasn't quite ready to make the best decisions. 

"It's like she stayed with her problems herself after the worlds in Boston," said Ouriashev. "Maybe give her a few days, a week, and then come to her house if she doesn't want to skate. Take her for a day to a museum. And little by little, go back to skating. That's my opinion."

Ouriashev watched video from Gold's recent events and diagnosed the trouble: the setup of her jumps.

"When you are in the air you can't control your jump," he said. "But before, you can control your upper body position, you can control your eye level, you can control your head, your hands, many little details.

"So I said, 'Gracie, (go) back to 2014. Remember how you did your lutz-toe, in what part of the ice rink. It was very comfortable for you, a set-up on a straight line.' And she worked really hard, and bit by bit, it got better."

Ouriashev also had Gold resume some of the exercise routines he had instilled earlier in her career.

"I asked, 'Gracie, remember the off-ice (work) you did in Chicago? Have you been doing it in L.A.?'" he said. "She said no, and I said, 'Get back to it.' I pretty much told her what exercises she should do in her hotel (gym) here in Chicago. It's not just what you do on the ice."

"Off-ice was as difficult and painful as I remember," Gold said. "Every time I was whining, he would say, 'You must do it again, Gracie.'"

Japanese champion Shoma Uno was also training with Ouriashev, and the coach devised motivational games. It was a welcome respite for Gold; since Carly's retirement after the 2016 U.S. Championships, she often trains alone in Los Angeles.

"I would say, 'Shoma, you do a quad flip, Gracie will do a triple flip, and we'll (measure) the distance and see which one is bigger,'" Ouriashev said. "She likes to be in company. It doesn't have to be world-level skaters. Even if somebody just works on the double axel, and you're working on triple-triples, it gives you energy and motivation."

Gold's jumps grew more consistent during her two-week stay. Most important, she adopted Ouriashev's -- and Carroll's -- viewpoint: Boston was a disappointment, but it wasn't the end of her career.

"I'm forgiving myself for failing," she said. "It's been weird. I've been a baby about it. There's too much at stake to hold on to something like that for so long."

The trouble is time. Gold hits the ice in Kansas City for her short program on Thursday.

"Gracie did an amazing job here," Ouriashev said. "It's not 100 percent but it got better and better, and I feel she believes in herself, which is very, very important."

Gold, now back in Los Angeles working with Carroll, called her last month's training "really magical."

"My confidence going into the U.S. Championships is surprisingly high, because with Alex, everything just seemed to come back so quickly and easily," Gold said. "It was just like flipping a switch."

For now, no decision has been made on whether Gold will work with Ouriashev again, or whether he will be part of her team in Kansas City, where he has other pupils competing.

"This was nothing permanent, it was a one-time thing," Gold said. "But you know, we'll see."