Gracie Gold struggles to sixth-place finish at nationals

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KANSAS CITY — The worst season of Gracie Gold‘s career appears to be over. Are changes ahead? Gold can’t say for sure.

Gold finished sixth at the U.S. Championships on Saturday, her first time outside the top two in five nationals appearances. She is likely to be left off the world championships team for the first time when it is announced Sunday.

Gold, who was fifth after the short program Thursday, left revolutions out of multiple jumps in her free skate, though she did not fall in either program.

“Obviously, I had a very terrible long program,” Gold, fairly composed, said minutes afterward. “It’s just something about this year. I’ve been in a funk. … Even when my switch is on, so to speak, I’m just not having the confidence and the clarity.”

NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir both called it disastrous. What should she do to regroup?

“You burn down the house, and you build a new one,” Weir said on the NBC broadcast.

The defending U.S. champion Gold has struggled since dropping from first after the 2016 World Championships short program to finish fourth. She was also fourth at the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Worlds.

She made a desperate move to seek out her old coach, Alex Ouriashev, after Christmas to work on her jumps, but it wasn’t enough. She wouldn’t say if she’ll change training locations before the Olympic season.

“I don’t have any plans of that nature yet,” Gold said. “You guys will be the first to know.”

Gold said after her short program that she deserved a place on the worlds team, which is chosen based not just on nationals but also results since the start of 2016. Gold backed off that after her free skate.

“I don’t really want to say too much, just because I know that the committee reads what we all say,” Gold said. “I just know that, given the opportunity, I wouldn’t let them down, and I think that I would be a very wise pick for the world team.

“Even though today’s skating is subpar, there’s not a doubt in my mind that this has been a rough season, but that I’m still pretty much one of the best skaters in the United States and in the world. Sometimes we just have bad times.”

Gold nearly sat out the fall Grand Prix season after detaching from the sport in the summer. She detailed mental and physical struggles — “a worlds depression” — as she posted her worst international results in four years the last three months.

“She’s gone through deep, deep, deep depression, and everybody’s tried to help her with it,” her coach, Frank Carroll, said after Saturday’s skate.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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