Gracie Gold

U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s preview

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For the last few years, the U.S. Championships has been all about the Ashley WagnerGracie Gold rivalry. While Wagner and Gold are both podium threats again this week, the individual story for each has taken interesting turns in the last year.

Recall that last year Wagner had to rally just to finish third at the U.S. Championships. But she followed that up with a silver medal at the world championships, becoming the first U.S. woman to earn an individual Olympic or worlds medal in a decade.

Then Wagner won Skate America in October. In her 10th senior season, Wagner seemed to have it figured out as much as ever. Until her next event in China in November, when Wagner finished sixth, her worst result in 25 career Grand Prix starts.

Which Wagner will show up in Kansas City?

Then there’s Gold, who won last year’s nationals with a magnificent free skate. Gold followed that by topping the short program at the 2016 World Championships, putting her in position to end the U.S. medal drought.

But Gold had the sixth-best free skate at worlds, stumbling to fourth place overall. The sting of that performance stayed with her for just about the rest of 2016. Gold struggled so much in the fall season that it wouldn’t be shocking to see her miss the nationals podium for the first time, and perhaps not make the three-woman world championships team.

Which Gold will show up in Kansas City?

Behind Wagner and Gold are skaters who have experienced up-and-down careers like 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Courtney Hicks as well as younger skaters who have developed in this Olympic cycle — Mariah BellKaren Chen and Amber Glenn.

Who knows how they will perform under the pressure of a U.S. Championships, one year before the Olympics.

“The ladies is a real mixed bag,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said.

Thursday
Women’s short program — 9:30 p.m.-midnight ET, NBCSN | STREAM LINKSTART ORDER
Saturday
Women’s free skate — 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC | STREAM LINK

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule
PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Ashley Wagner
Age: 25
Hometown: Los Angeles
2016 World silver medalist
Three-time U.S. champion

Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s champion since 1927. If she skates like she did at Skate America, that should be enough. Wagner’s score there was the highest by an American woman this season by nearly five points, and she wasn’t even at her best. If she skates like she did last time out at Cup of China in November, Wagner will not win her fourth national title this week.

Johnny Weir’s Take: The clear favorite. She has had the most consistent and promising season of the U.S. ladies, despite the fact that she didn’t make the Grand Prix Final. Her consistency has been head-and-shoulders above that of Gracie Gold. If she skates the way Ashley Wagner skates, given Gracie Gold’s instability lately, it is her title to lose.

MORE: Wagner, Chen share ice, favorite status for U.S. Champs

Gracie Gold
Age: 21
Hometown: Los Angeles
Two-time U.S. champion
Fourth at 2014 Olympics, 2015 World Championships, 2016 World Championships

Gold mulled skipping the fall season, still depressed after falling off the worlds podium. After lacing up her skates, she finished fifth and eighth in her two Grand Prix starts, then a desultory sixth at a lower-level event in December that caused her to seek out an old coach for desperate help. Gold echoed renewed confidence in speaking to the media last week, but will it translate to her programs?

Tara Lipinski’s Take: You never really know which form Gracie is going to show up in. The only thing that’s really blocking her is the mind. That can always turn around very quickly. It’s much harder to turn around a technical problem.

MORE: Gold finally forgives herself for worlds failure

Mirai Nagasu
Age: 23
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2008 U.S. champion
Fourth at 2010 Olympics

With Gold’s struggles and the absence of Olympian Polina Edmunds, Nagasu is arguably a top-three favorite this week. Especially if she attempts and hits the triple Axel she’s been practicing. What a comeback it could be for Nagasu, who won her only U.S. title nine years ago and last qualified outright for a worlds team in 2010.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: She’s always the wild card. She’s been in it so long. She trains so hard, and she wants it so badly. When you look at her track record, it sort of seems that one competition she does well, the next one is a disaster.

Mariah Bell
Age: 20
Hometown: Lakewood, Calif.
2016 Skate America silver medalist

Bell is this year’s new face. She finished second to her new training partner Wagner at Skate America with the second-best total score by a U.S. woman this season. However, Bell scored 24 fewer points at her most recent competition in November.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: She’s flying under the radar. It’s all fitting together for her right now. This is a key chance for her to make her mark at nationals, especially depending on what Gracie skates like.

Courtney Hicks
Age: 21
Hometown: Aliso Viejo, Calif.
2016 Rostelecom Cup bronze medalist
2015 NHK Trophy silver medalist

Hicks is an annual name on the contender list but has never capitalized on her athleticism to land in the U.S. Championships top three in four appearances. Hicks and Wagner are the only U.S. women to make Grand Prix podiums in both of the last two seasons, but her top total score this season ranks sixth among U.S. women.

Karen Chen
Age: 17
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
2015 U.S. bronze medalist

Chen stunned by taking bronze at nationals two years ago, becoming the youngest woman to finish that high since Nagasu took the title in 2008. Chen hasn’t followed that up with much international success, but she still has time to develop.

Amber Glenn
Age: 17
Hometown: Dallas
2014 U.S. junior champion

Glenn showed up on the radar by topping Gold at a lower-level event in December. Her score there ranks her No. 5 among U.S. women this season, and she’s the only contender on this list who hasn’t competed in the Grand Prix series. See how she fares with a little more attention this week.

MORE: Polina Edmunds’ injury keeps her out for a year … and counting

Gracie Gold forgives herself for worlds failure, aided by old coach

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Desperate, Gracie Gold phoned the one man she didn’t think would answer her calls.

He picked up, and now Gold feels ready to defend her U.S. title in Kansas City next week, following a tumultuous nine months.

It all started at the world championships in Boston last spring. By now you’ve read that Gold led after the short program, in position to end a 10-year U.S. medal drought, and failed in the free skate, falling to fourth place.

That stayed with Gold the entire offseason. As she toured later that spring with skaters who did earn medals. As she distanced herself from the sport in the summer. And as she struggled mightily through the fall Grand Prix series.

Then, at her most recent event in December, Gold had her worst performance in four years at a small competition, finishing sixth against a weak field in Zagreb, Croatia.

Her social media afterward read, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

“Anyone who has seen the video from that Golden Spin was like, there’s something wrong with Gracie,” said Gold, who reportedly dealt with upper-back pain in Zagreb. “I finally told my team that I felt like I needed Alex, as tough as that was to say.”

Alex Ouriashev, her former Chicago-area coach.

Ouriashev had guided Gold to success as a junior and in her first senior season in 2012-13. Gold suddenly left the coach in August 2013, less than six months before the Sochi Olympics, and joined the venerable Frank Carroll, who is still her primary coach.

The Gold-Ouriashev split was not clean, especially considering the timing. Gold said their relationship “was crumbling on both ends.”

So when Gold picked up the phone last month, with Carroll’s support, she was understandably hesitant.

“I didn’t feel like Alex would actually answer my calls,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how he felt about me, because three years is a long time, actually.”

Ouriashev did answer. He invited Gold to see him in Chicago to work on her jumps, with Japanese men’s star Shoma Uno already scheduled to be in town.

Gold said she cried upon seeing Ouriashev.

“It was like stepping back in time,” Gold said. “Time really does heal all wounds. … There was really no bad blood between us.”

VIDEO: Kristi Yamaguchi previews nationals

Gold spent two weeks working with Ouriashev after Christmas and returned to Los Angeles, where she trains with Carroll.

“Alex kind of raised me in a sense,” Gold said. “He kind of taught me all my triple [jumps], so he kind of knew how to work out all of the kinks.”

The jumps, which Gold couldn’t land all fall, quickly came back. Like flipping a switch.

“I needed to get out of my head, get out of my training space and switch things up because I was kind of in a funk,” Gold said. “Chicago did that for me. Alex did that for me.”

The goal at the U.S. Championships next week is to make the three-woman world championships team, if not win. With 2016 U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds out with a foot injury, making the top three in Kansas City is not a huge ask. Winning the title would require overtaking world silver medalist Ashley Wagner.

“I know that some people have written me off,” said Gold, whose best score in the fall from Skate America ranks her fourth in the U.S. this season, behind Wagner, Mariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu.

Gold was still asked repeatedly about her world championships failure, and her disastrous fall season, in a media call Thursday.

“I’ve kind of fallen back in love with the sport and my programs and most importantly myself,” she said. “I’m forgiving myself for failing.”

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

"If you're going through hell, keep going." ~Winston Churchill

A photo posted by Gracie Gold (@graciegold95) on

Gracie Gold’s outlook for U.S. Championships clouded after more struggles

Gracie Gold
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Gracie Gold struggled in all four of her competitions this fall, capped by her lowest total score in four years at a Croatian event this week, putting her under scrutiny for the U.S. Championships in six weeks.

She singled three jumps and fell twice across two programs at Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia, on Thursday and Friday.

Gold totaled 159.02 points for sixth place, her first time below 160 points since 2012 Skate Canada in her first season as a senior skater.

Italian Carolina Kostner, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, won with 196.23 points in her first full competition since the 2014 World Championships.

GOLD’S SKATES: Short Program | Free Skate

Earlier this fall, Gold finished last of six skaters in the free skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1, fifth at Skate America in October and eighth at Trophée de France in November.

Gold has spoken openly about trying to mentally and physically recover from last season’s world championships, where she dropped from first after the short program to finish fourth, and taking weeks off from training in the summer offseason.

Even with the rough skates, Gold still ranks fourth among U.S. women in top scores this season, behind Ashley WagnerMariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu.

She could struggle — to a degree — at the U.S. Championships in January and still make the three-woman world championships team. Gold has finished first or second at all four of her senior nationals appearances.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Top U.S. women’s skaters in 2016-17
1. Ashley Wagner — 196.44 (Skate America)
2. Mariah Bell — 191.59 (Skate America)
3. Mirai Nagasu — 189.11 (Autumn Classic)
4. Gracie Gold — 184.22 (Skate America)
5. Amber Glenn — 183.60 (Golden Spin)
6. Courtney Hicks — 182.98 (Rostelecom Cup)