Gold says it's 'full speed ahead' at new training digsTwo-time U.S. champ excited to reconnect with Zoueva, Epstein in Canton
For Gracie Gold, selecting a new training home came down to one simple question: Where will I be happy?
The answer quickly led her to Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein in Canton, Michigan.
"I guess it's a gut feeling," Gold said. "I really feel it's the place for me. There's a good feeling there. Patrick [Chan] and the Shibutanis seem so happy. I just know it's right."
The two-time U.S. champion, who was in Manhattan to take part in Team USA's celebration marking one year until the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, announced the move via Facebook on Wednesday. The decision was made soon after a sixth-place finish at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City last month left her off the world team for the first time in her five-year senior career.
While still in Kansas City, Gold and her coach of four seasons, Frank Carroll, parted ways. But the skater made it clear she had already put the drama of her disappointing 2016-17 season firmly behind her.
"As soon as nationals was over, I started looking at what I could do to fix the things I didn't like about my situation and my skating," she said. "I've already kind of semi-moved to Michigan: I've already got an apartment, I've skated there a few days already. I'm moving on, and I'm ready to get a jump on next season."
Sharing the ice with longtime friends Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, the two-time U.S. ice dance champions, and Canada's Chan, a three-time world champion, is a big part of Canton's appeal.
"They all have that kind of cool, calm and collected feel," Gold said. "Everyone goes into the rink to skate on their own terms, nothing extra. Training for worlds there is like training for any other competition -- it could be Champs Camp or Skate Detroit. There's no drama. Marina has created such a great environment."
Moving on also means living on her own for the first time. She's rented an apartment in Ypsilanti, a 10- or 15-minute drive to the Arctic Edge rink in Canton. When she moved from the Chicago area to train with Carroll in Los Angeles in the summer of 2013, her mom, Denise, and twin sister, Carly, came along.
This time, the 21-year-old is flying solo.
"On some days when I don't want to do the laundry, there's not going to be my mom there to do it for me," Gold laughed. "I will have to scrape the ice off my windshield every morning. There's not someone there to pick me up, to warm my car. So it will be a change and an adjustment, but I think that it's the next step I need to take.
"Carly and my mom have their own lives in California, and this is something I am doing for myself. I want to live my own life here on my own terms, for my skating."
Zoueva worked with Gold for several months in 2013 and choreographed the free skate she performed to win her first U.S. title in 2014 and place fourth at the Sochi Olympics. She, too, thinks the most important thing is Gold's happiness.
"I want to see Gracie happy; that way, she will be excited for competition," Zoueva said. "I know it's absolutely possible. Everyone sees her talent, everyone wants her to be great. She just needs to show that to everybody, to get back her self-confidence."
This season took its toll on the skater's psyche. After winning the short program at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, she placed sixth in the free skate to wind up in fourth place. Although she denied being depressed, Gold admitted to feeling at loose ends during the off-season.
"I was floating, untethered -- that's the word I was kind of throwing out, and it was true," she said. "I wasn't looking ahead. I didn't have a game plan."
With sponsor commitments and trips to Japan and Europe, her training last summer was inconsistent, and she arrived at her fall events less prepared than in previous seasons. The results were fifth- and eighth-place finishes at her Grand Prix assignments, Skate America and Trophée de France, followed by a sixth-place showing at a lesser international, Golden Spin of Zagreb.
"Jetting off to Western Europe for two weeks and not skating at the end of July, four weeks before Champs Camp -- my bad," Gold said. "There were just opportunities. I wasn't looking (ahead); I was like, 'Oh yeah, let's go.' I didn't have the full plan.
"I am seeing all the way to South Korea now," she said. "If something doesn't fit, if it doesn't feel right at all, it's not even there."
Zoueva, who travels to PyeongChang next week to coach the Shibutanis and Chan at the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, already has ideas for next season.
"I want to bring the best out of her, to show different aspects of her talent," Zoueva said. "Because she is now 21, a young lady. It's different than when I worked with her years ago. From a girl, she has become a gorgeous young lady."
"When I first got to Michigan, Marina said, 'I don't need to choreograph your programs -- it's up to you,'" Gold said. "I loved that. She made it clear she was there to provide suggestions and support, but that it is my life, my career. She always has these creative ideas. I'm really looking forward to spicing everything up (next) season. It should be really exciting."
Gold is reconnecting with Epstein, with whom she worked years ago in Chicago. During the frequent visits Nathan Chen has made to Canton, Epstein has been instrumental in improving the U.S. champion's skating skills with edge drills. Gold plans to benefit from them as well.
"[Epstein] has always been an edge master and body mechanic, just (knowing) the blade and how the body moves to create the best quality of skating, how it should be really natural and all about gliding and flowing, nothing forced," Gold said. "Having that take on the technical side of skating can be refreshing."
Both Zoueva and Gold think it's likely that the skater will also work with former coach Alex Ouriashev, who trained her in the years prior to her move to Los Angeles.
"We will be organized, all of the coaches," Zoueva said. "I think it will (not only) be beneficial for Gracie to work with my team but also Alex for sure, because Alex actually made all of her jumps, so he is very familiar with her style."
Gold returned to Ouriashev in Chicago for two weeks at the end of December in a bid to recapture her form for the U.S. championships. While the move did not lead her to the podium, she still called it a success.
"I felt it was great working with him, so if that opportunity comes about again, I would love to travel (to Chicago) to work with him," she said. "That's just a piece of the puzzle that wasn't as immediate as finding out some other things. That piece of the puzzle, it will fit soon."
Everything must fit soon. To win a spot to compete in PyeongChang, Gold will likely need at least a top-three finish at the 2018 U.S. Championships, less than a year away. Her hopes partially ride on the results of the upcoming world championships in Helsinki, where longtime rival Ashley Wagner, the world silver medalist, will compete along with two world debutants: U.S. champion Karen Chen and U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell. The top two placements must be equal to, or less than, 13 in order for the U.S. to quality three spots at next year's Olympic Games.
Gold thinks she is up to the challenge.
"I'm ready. We have a year," she said. "I have a solid game plan. Everyone is on the same page. It's literally going to be 365 days, full speed ahead."