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Gracie Gold details ‘mental health crisis,’ return to figure skating

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Gracie Gold detailed what she called “a mental health crisis” that led her to get treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder last year, pausing her figure skating career.

“I was absolutely so clinically depressed,” Gold said in a No Bull Biz TV interview published Saturday. “I look back on it not sad — because there was amazing personal growth — but it really opened my eyes to the struggles of mental health and how there still really is that stigma around it. It’s really uncomfortable for a lot of people to talk about.

“Most people don’t feel safe reaching out. … I felt like I was going to be judged or have my reality denied that, well, you’re Gracie Gold. What do you have to be depressed about? Look at your life. Look at all these things. How could you be depressed? I had people semi-close to me say that.”

Gold’s struggles spiraled at the 2016 World Championships, where she dropped from first after the short program to fourth overall after a disastrous free skate.

“A lot of stuff in my personal life was really chaotic,” she said. “I really started to go down pretty quickly.”

Gold considered taking the fall 2016 season off but instead “kept running head-first into the same wall” in skating.

She last competed at the January 2017 U.S. Championships, placing sixth and splitting from her coach, Frank Carroll, who had helped her to a team-event bronze medal and fourth-place individual finish at the Sochi Olympics.

Gold said the final breaking point was a U.S. team camp before the 2017-18 season. She lashed out at one or two people who made an insensitive comment about her looking like she didn’t care.

“My MO in skating was like very plastic Barbie, prim and proper,” she said. “So for me to tell important people at my federation off, including some profanity, was like very uncharacteristic of me. It’s referred to now as ‘the incident.’”

Shortly after that, Gold described in detail her life as a mess to a close friend with the U.S. team.

“She didn’t know what to say, but she just sprung into action,” Gold said. “She and another member were really some of the fundamental people in getting me the help that I needed.”

Gold announced Sept. 1, 2017 that she was seeking professional help “after recent struggles on and off the ice.” She finished treatment the following month.

She decided not to rush a return to competition for a PyeongChang Olympic run. Gold said that, for the first time, she lived a normal life without considering skating.

Then she attended January’s U.S. Championships as a spectator.

“I was just watching skating, kind of being back in the environment,” said Gold, who became a Twitter sensation for her live social media commentary. “I forgot how many great things that there are. A lot of elite skaters that I talk to, a lot of us just get burned out, bitter and really focus on the negatives. Then I realize how many great things there are about skating, going through the international circuit, the competition.”

Gold met who would become her new coach at nationals (presumably Vincent Restencourt). In April, she decided that she wanted to return to elite skating. Gold is scheduled to compete next month for the first time in nearly two years.

She has a morning routine that includes writing down her schedule and goals, coffee and positive affirmation apps. Pinterest is a passion.

“So I fixed myself, in a way,” she said. “It’s kind of a daily journey, but pulled myself back together, getting back into skating, so that we would have four years for the next Olympics, which was more in my head my ideal retirement. … There are many more bumps in the road than I first envisioned, but I’m looking forward to enjoying the process again.”

That process brought Gold to train in the Northeast for the first time in Pennsylvania.

“If I didn’t [try to come back], I felt like I would regret it forever,” she said. “I would just be more unhappy if I didn’t go for it than if I did and it didn’t work out.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold….go to NBCsportsgold.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.