Gracie Gold‘s first international competition this season didn’t go well.
“I just kind of choked, really,” she said.
Gold, the top U.S. finisher at the 2014 Olympics (fourth) and 2014 and 2015 World Championships (fifth, fourth), was the last finisher overall, sixth in a six-skater field, at the Japan Open on Oct. 3.
The Japan Open is a team event, closer to an exhibition, with skaters performing only a free skate.
The other five women at the competition were Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, World champions Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Mao Asada, three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner and Worlds silver medalist Satoko Miyahara.
Gold fell and finished a distant 27.17 points behind the winner Asada.
She called it a “speed bump” to start a season for which she’s set specific goals — qualifying for the six-skater Grand Prix Final in December, reclaiming the U.S. title in January and becoming the first U.S. woman to make a World Championships podium since 2006, in Boston in March and April.
“I just got nervous [at the Japan Open], and I didn’t rely on all of my training and hard work,” Gold said Thursday. “I just kind of froze. I almost wanted to skate so well and show everyone how hard I had been working and everything that I just ended up tripping over my own feet.”
The 20-year-old wants to approach next week’s Skate America as if the Japan Open didn’t happen. Gold is the top U.S. draw in the Milwaukee event (live on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, Oct. 24-25).
MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule
Gold finished third at Skate America last year, behind two Russians who turned out to be the strongest skaters over the course of the season — Yelena Radionova and Tuktamysheva.
This year’s field includes neither Radionova nor Tuktamysheva. Gold could have an easier path to the title with the other star attractions being Miyahara and Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya, the darling of the 2014 Olympic team event who plummeted to ninth at the Russian Championships last season.
Gold spent her offseason practicing a triple Axel but does not expect to try it in competition until next season at the earliest. Tuktamysheva and Asada are known for performing the difficult jump that has eluded the top active U.S. women.
Gold said she made great strides with the triple Axel until a few weeks ago, when she took a hard fall attempting the jump and decided to step back from it. She hopes to work on it more consistently after Skate America and before her second Grand Prix Series event, Trophée Bompard in France in mid-November.
She sees positives from practicing it, even if she won’t use it in competition this season.
“Working on a triple Axel, then my other jumps feel easy in comparison,” Gold said. “I have a, so far, positive relationship with the triple Axel.”
MORE FIGURE SKATING: Will Davis, White return for 2018?