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.”

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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.”

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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