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Gold dances 'Sugar Plum' as she envisioned, wins

With new confidence, preparation, phenom takes junior ladies short

A confident Gracie Gold brings nearly a six-point cushion into the junior ladies free skate.
A confident Gracie Gold brings nearly a six-point cushion into the junior ladies free skate. (Tom Briglia)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2012) - Gracie Gold proved her mettle in Monday night's short program, turning in a 24-carat performance that lived up to the pre-event hype.

The 16-year-old from Springfield, Ill. soared through the jumps in her fast-paced routine to a techno version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," hitting a huge triple flip-triple toe combination worth 10.20 points, followed by a solid triple Lutz and big double Axel at the U.S. Championships.

Her 60.21-point score makes her the solid frontrunner heading into the free skate, a role she thinks she has earned.

"I've been preparing for this for months," she said. "I'm ready."

Few would disagree with Gold, who posted some impressive numbers last summer and fall, culminating in her 172.69-point winning effort at the Estonia Junior Grand Prix. Only Junior Grand Prix champion Julia Lipnitskaia outdid Gold, points-wise, at the international junior events.

With her big jumps and recent consistency, Gold has been heralded as a potential candidate for the 2014 Sochi team. Though far from boastful, she doesn't mind the publicity.

"I think I deserve it," she said. "I've worked really hard this year. I posted some video of numerous competitions [on YouTube]. I think I deserve to be considered one of the frontrunners [in San Jose]."

Gold hasn't always had this kind of confidence. Last season, she faltered at her qualifying sectional competition and didn't make it to the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The teen credits work with a sports psychologist for turning her attitude around.

"Last year, going into competition I was so nervous," she said. "I didn't consider myself one of the frontrunners. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, look at what they're doing.' I wasn't focused on myself and what I was doing. I was sort of a mental and emotional mess."

She began seeing the psychologist in the spring of 2011 and stepped up her appointments before the JGP in Estonia.

"It helped very much," Alex Ouriashev, Gold's coach, said. "I have a nice relationship with [the psychologist]. We're all working together.

"Gracie [has] skated her short program, and her long program, all year kind of clean. It's not like last year, when she did a great competition and then boom. Now, she can skate at 80, 90 percent [consistently]."

As for Gold, she's thrilled she lived up to expectations.

"People have been talking the talk, and now it was my turn to walk the walk," she said. "I love putting out a great performance, especially at a big competition like nationals. I had so much fun."

Michigan's Hannah Miller turned in an outstanding program to "Danse Macabre," choreographed by ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Daniil Barantsev.

Although her jumps were solid, Miller also shined in her spins and straight-line step sequence, all of which gained Level 4.

"It was a great program for me," Miller, 15, said. "I was excited to come out here and skate my best. Tanith and Daniil have such different styles, so I kind of get a mix of stuff, which works out well."

Miller, last season's novice champion, admitted to feeling a bit of pressure heading into San Jose. Fortunately, she doesn't have to look far to get advice on how to cope. Her dad, Kevin Miller, was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team.

"He actually played hockey for the San Jose Sharks, in 1995," Heidi said. "I can always look up to him, and he always knows what to say."

Texan Ashley Cain skated a stylish Tango short, highlighted by a strong triple loop-double loop combination and marred only slightly by a flawed double Axel. She sits third with 51.08 points.

As always, talk in the mixed zone turned to her training double-duty: She will also compete in senior pairs with partner Joshua Reagan.

"Coming in to San Jose, we sat down and made a plan," the 16-year-old said. "I would have singles first and be completely done, and then we start pairs. We talked about building through the week and not having it go down, [but] keep going up.

"I couldn't just do one [discipline]. When I was in Russia [for Rostelecom Cup], it felt weird not doing singles. [The two events] definitely combine to make me a better skater."

San Jose girl Polina Edmunds gave her hometown fans something to cheer for with a charming western hoedown number, including a triple flip-triple toe and some fast-moving Level 4 spins. She sits in fourth with 51.02 points.