‘Nervous’ Gracie Gold stumbles in short program, but rebuilds herself to get this far

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Two-time national champion and 2014 Olympian Gracie Gold skated at her first national championships in three years in Greensboro on Thursday.

Her short program set to Annie Lennox’s “I Put a Spell on You” garnered 54.51 points and left her in 13th place. Gold doubled her planned triple-triple, executing a two-footed triple Lutz, double toe combination and popping a planned triple loop.

The women’s free skate is Friday, with 2018 national champion Bradie Tennell leading the field at 78.96 points.

After the short program, Gold told media, “I guess you could say that one might be nervous for this event.”

She put her progress at a nine out of 10 compared to where she had come from earlier this season. She rated her short program a three of 10.

She plans to “go to sleep, practice, nap, practice again” before Friday’s free skate.

“For me, short and long are two separate entities. We’ve seen that. Someone can botch a short and nail a long. Someone can have a Worlds – one might say a world’s best short program – and botch the long” she said, hinting at her 2016 Worlds-leading short program, followed by a disappointing free skate that left her fourth overall.

But she wanted to make one thing clear, speaking to NBC Olympics Research prior to competing:

“This isn’t a recreational comeback,” she stated.

“I mean first off, just being [at nationals] is already a pretty big W for me, because the 2018-19 season is pretty much non-existent for me… I want it to be clear that I’ve been training hard… I wanna look like I belong there, like I didn’t qualify because of my name, I qualified because I earned it. I earned a place at nationals to be a competitive athlete.”

One could say Gold took the long way around to qualify for nationals this year. Skaters with international assignments automatically get a berth to the U.S.’ top event. Gold, though, had to place high enough at Regionals and the subsequent Sectionals to qualify for nationals. She was third at regionals and third at sectionals to stamp her ticket to Greensboro.

Following her most recent national championships (sixth in 2017), Gold had a well-publicized split from her coach and sought treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. She coached briefly in Arizona before settling in Philadelphia. Her only competition in the 2018-19 season was a November Grand Prix event, where she pulled out after the short program. She called that experience “an alternate reality,” adding she’s “not even the same person.”

After her “exquisite flameout” – Gold admitted to borrowing the phrase from a wordsmith friend – she said rebuilding her life following treatment had its own silver lining.

“The positive is I got to rebuild everything from scratch,” she said. “While some things were fine and didn’t need to be rebuilt, when I put myself back together, I got to be whoever I wanted.”

She draws much of who she is today from the strength of her mother, Denise.

“Sometimes our relationship has been tumultuous because we’re the same person in so many ways; we’re almost too similar sometimes,” Gold said of her mother’s fortitude, which she absorbed. “I do go to sleep at night knowing, that above all else I am my mother’s daughter, and we will keep marching forward.”

Denise watched Gold’s short program from the audience. She said she felt “high anxiety, tremendous pride, and respect,” watching the performance. “Crowd’s support made me tearful,” she added in a text message.

Gold’s twin sister Carly, also a former national-level figure skater, tweeted her pride as well after the performance.

Philip Hersh and Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Joey Mantia extends U.S. medal streak at speed skating worlds; Dutch dominance returns

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Joey Mantia ensured the host U.S. finished with a medal at the world single distances championships. Ireen WüstKjeld Nuis and Jorrit Bergsma ensured the Netherlands finished atop the medal standings.

Mantia joined Shani Davis as the only U.S. men to earn individual medals at three different editions of the championships, taking bronze in the 1500m on the last day of the speed skating meet at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Mantia won the mass start at the last two worlds in 2017 and 2019 (and finished fifth on Sunday, after the 1500m bronze).

Mantia clocked a personal best 1:42.16 in the fifth of 12 pairs of the 1500m. It held up until Nuis (1:41.66) and countryman Thomas Krol (1:41.73) in the last two pairs.

“Was starting to think that I’m so old that I can’t time trial anymore,” Mantia, a 34-year-old whose last 1500m personal best came in 2015, told media in Utah. “Maybe there’s a little bit of hope left.”

Mantia’s medal extended the U.S. streak of making the podium at every world championships this millennium — 16 straight. The single bronze is the smallest medal output since 2000.

Full results are here.

Wüst and Nuis gave the Dutch a sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m titles, two years after they did the same at the PyeongChang Olympics. Bergsma, an Olympic and world 10,000m champion, earned his first global medal of any color — gold — in the 16-lap mass start.

The Netherlands failed to earn any golds on the first two days of the four-day competition. The dominant Dutch, who topped the medal standings at every Olympics and worlds dating to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, entered Sunday trailing Russia.

But Wüst began the day by clocking 1:50.92 to win the 1500m by .21 over Russian Yevgenia Lalenkova. American medal hope Brittany Bowe, the 2015 World champion who took bronze last year, finished 14th a day after taking eighth in her world-record 1000m distance.

Nuis and Krol went one-two in the men’s 1500m to tie Russia’s medal total. Then Irene Schouten took bronze in the women’s mass start to put the Netherlands ahead for good, followed by Bergsma’s capper.

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MORE: Shani Davis retires, takes new role in speed skating

Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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