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Gracie sets gold standard for U.S. junior ladies

Phenom hits seven triples en route to new record; next up: Russian wunderkinds

Gracie Gold more than lived up to her surname in San Jose, vanquishing all by 23 points.
Gracie Gold more than lived up to her surname in San Jose, vanquishing all by 23 points. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/26/2012) - Even when she's not at her best, Gracie Gold soars high above the field.

The 16-year-old from Chicago shook off a few wobbly spins and a fall on a double Axel to strike gold at the U.S. Championships, setting a new U.S. junior ladies' record of 178.48 points in the process and outpacing the field by more than 23 points.

"I skated a little cautiously, but this was my first big competition where I had a lot of expectations," Gold said.

There was nothing cautious about Gold's opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination, which had as much air time as many a senior man's and racked up 11.70 points. Her second combination, double Axel-triple toe, was equally impressive, and she reeled off four more triples without a hitch, earning 118.71 points for her free skate to Enrico Morricone's The Mission.

"She is the best jumper in the U.S.," Alex Ouriashev, Gold's coach, said in the mixed zone. No argument here.

"I was really happy with myself. Slightly frustrated, but pretty happy," Gold said. "I mean, I do a Lutz-toe, and a double Axel fall.

"I was going pretty fast, and there was clearly a rather large technical mistake. I lost a little bit of focus, I think. I thought both of the first [two] combinations went really well. All of the other jumps were good; I know my flip had a small bobble, but I still thought it was pretty good."

It's an astounding comeback for Gold, who didn't even make it through her Midwestern Sectionals to qualify for the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

After racking up wins on the summer non-qualifying circuit, she waited months to gain entry to a Junior Grand Prix. She won gold in Estonia, but since she did not have a second assignment, lost the chance to compete at the Junior Grand Prix Final. The U.S. junior title is sweet redemption.

"I put a lot of expectations on myself," Gold said. "All of these people were saying things, talking the talk. I knew I had to skate. And also for myself; I had done well all year [but] this was a bigger competition. It was the end, so I knew I had to do it."

It is likely Gold will next compete against a trio of Russian wunderkinds, including Grand Prix Finalist Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, at the 2012 Junior World Figure Skating Championships in Belarus, held Feb. 27-Mar. 4. It's a prospect she welcomes.

"I'd be excited to compete against them," she said. "I think it would be a great competition. I've watched their performances; all three or four of them are very talented. I think I can compete with them. When we get to that, I'll think more about it."

Texan Ashley Cain had the free skate of her life to David Garrett's "Who Wants to Live Forever," landing six triples, including a triple Lutz and triple Salchow-double Axel sequence to score 103.68 points, some 23 points more than her international season's best score at the Latvia JGP.

"I was very happy," Cain, 16, said. "I've been training really hard at home in both singles and pairs, and to come here and do that felt really great. When I landed that triple loop at the end it was just, 'Yes! Finally I did it!' because in the past competitions this year, I'd had a hard time."

All the more remarkable, considering less than two hours before, she was in the midst of senior pairs' practice with partner Joshua Reagan.

"It was actually nice, because it made me not sit and think about it all day," Cain said. "I got to move my legs and my body and it got my mind off of things. I kind of went into this competition like I was at home."

Ashley's father and coach, former Australian pairs competitor Peter Cain, thinks doing double duty is a big plus for his daughter.

"She likes to keep busy," he said. "It's the pattern she does at home. What we did notice when we were overseas is when she had a lot of time on her hands she would think too much. It wasn't good for her, so it kind of worked to her advantage tonight."

Hannah Miller, the 2011 U.S. novice champion, took bronze with a speedy program to "Masquerade Waltz" that featured a triple flip-double toe; triple toe-double Axel sequence; and three Level 4 spins. Despite a fall on an intended triple flip and a popped Lutz, Miller earned 95.24 points and finished with 149.68 points.

"My training has been great," Miller, 15, said. "Just a few of my jumps, I pulled in a little too quick. Training-wise, I can work on consistency with my jumps."

Barbie Long placed third in the free to climb from fifth after the short to fourth overall.