SOCHI, Russia – There was only one time that legendary figure skating coach Frank Carroll considered quitting the sport altogether – way back in 1980.
“After Linda Fratianne lost the Olympic Games in 1980, I thought, ‘I don’t want any part in this sport anymore,’” the 75-year-old Carroll told NBCOlympics.com Sunday. “The next year I had the junior world champion and I remember the president of U.S. Figure Skating saying, ‘Oh, I thought you were going to quit.’ I guess quitting didn’t work out and I’m glad it didn’t.”
Figure skating is glad, too. From Fratianne to Michelle Kwan to Evan Lysacek and now Gracie Gold (with others in between), Carroll has seen skating through generation after generation from the boards, a stoic face and unfettered fatherly presence on the side of the ice.
“He is the most extraordinary coach of our generation,” said Scott Brown, a figure skating coach that works alongside Carroll training Gold. “Everything that he does I want to emulate. I’m fortunate with Gracie that I get to spend all this time with him. He’s the athlete’s coach and the coach’s coach. We can all just aspire to be half as great as him. He is the real deal.”
And he has been for over 30 years, which makes Carroll’s legacy that much more powerful. Friday night he won another Olympic medal, this time as the coach for Denis Ten, who trains with Carroll and Gold in Los Angeles. The Kazakhstan native won a bronze in the men’s singles event after Gold had helped the U.S. to third place in the new team event earlier in the week.
But the fact that Carroll is sticking around for the final few days of these Olympics – the ladies singles event – was not a situation foreseen just six months ago. He and Gold began working together only in September.
“One of the things that I’m known for – god, it sounds like I’m incredibly proud of myself! – is being able to package a skater,” Carroll said, a slight grin on his face. “With Gracie, she was taught extremely well, but I think she had troubles with how to go about competing on an emotional level – putting it all together. I think I have an eye for how to put things together. I basically took a talented girl with good skating skills and tried to make her into a package.”
He’s helping to do the same with Polina Edmunds, the third member of the U.S. ladies team along with Gold and Ashley Wagner, consulting with her coach David Glynn, himself a former Carroll student.
“He’s such a great role model for every young coach,” said Glynn, who trains Edmunds in San Jose. “He’s so willing to offer advice and help; his integrity is wonderful. He wants to help not only the skaters, but the parents and the whole skating community.”
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Helped he has for years and years. Why then, for a man at his age, does Carroll continue to do the work that he does?
“What’s that song from ‘Follies’? ‘I’m Still Here’?” Carroll said, laughing. “It’s sort of like a game to me. It’s like pieces of a puzzle: ‘Can I put this together? Can I get this person to be a real achiever?’ I play games with myself all the time.”
In those short five months, Carroll has helped piece together the 18-year-old Gold, who is considered an outside shot to win a medal in Sochi come Wednesday and Thursday.
Come those nights, Carroll says he will get a little nervous, but not like he used to.
“It’s not electricity anymore, but a little bit of nervousness,” Carroll said. “I’m very used to it all. That intense anxiety has really worn off a lot. I realized what will be will be. By the time Evan won his gold, I wasn’t expecting anything … It was, for me, if the cards worked out right, he was going to win. And he did!”
Yet that was four years ago, when Carroll was already past 70 and – aside from Lysacek – without an American prospect for Sochi. Though Carroll still expected to be here.
“Of course!” He said, smiling. “And if I don’t quit, I expect to be back at the next one, too. I sound like ‘Ol’ Man River’ who just keeps going on. It’s a fun profession to be in and I don’t have any immediate plans to retire.”
Carroll jokes that it’s greed that keeps him on the boards, but it’s obvious he just can’t quit. And hasn’t thought about it since 1980.
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“You’re a lifer in skating,” said Brown, who with Carroll and Gold once a month. “If you’re addicted, this is what you’re doing. You go throw the ups and downs, but the ups are so great and they feel so good and make you always wanting more. I think he feels that.”
Carroll’s skaters have felt a variety of things over the years. Frank has become a fixture every four years on TV sets across the U.S. In 1998, an emotional Kwan leaned into his shoulder tight as her scores came in just a touch low, giving Tara Lipinski the window she needed to win. But Frank’s face remained unchanged.
It was Gracie Gold who was having trouble keeping her emotions in check before she came to Frank, working with longtime coach Aleksander Ouriyashev in Chicago. But with Carroll, there are no outbursts, only continuously improving skating skills and know-how.