Gracie Gold

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How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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The way Gracie Gold explains it, she was set up on a blind date while attending the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“I was up in the stands just watching, just a mess,” said Gold, who took that Olympic season off to treat depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

She was invited to watch the junior women’s free skate from backstage, where athletes meet their coaches after performing.

“They’re probably trying to make me feel important because I had a case of the sads,” said Gold, who was making her first public appearance at a skating event in a year. “It occurred to me later that this was a set up.”

A backstage group convinced her to swap phone numbers with Frenchman Vincent Restencourt, a former world junior medalist turned coach. Gold had begun to dabble in coaching herself. Restencourt offered her a weeklong gig at his rink.

“I’ll just fly somewhere for a week, make some money, just get out in the world,” Gold said. “Remember, I fell off the face of the earth for quite a while.”

But when she got to IceWorks in Aston, Pa., another group convinced her to relocate there from Arizona. Not to coach, but to skate again.

“If you looked at me, it was a joke,” Gold said. “No one was going to look at me and be like, ‘Oh my god, you still have so much potential.’ I had a brown bob cut. I had my nose pierced.

“I was like, it’s probably not possible. And they were like, ‘But don’t you want to say that you tried?’”

Gracie Gold
Gold watching from the stands at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Gold was convinced that, at the very least, she should get into skating shape to participate in shows and make some money.

“It was super easy for me to say yes to another opportunity,” Gold said. She flew back to Arizona, packed and was in Pennsylvania two weeks later.

Her new students ranged from 3 years old to adults. She also started training under Restencourt.

“Sometimes they treat me like I’m a little bit fragile or like I might melt down at any point,” she said. “But better to be safe than sorry after what happened.”

Gold’s only competition of the 2018-19 season was the Rostelecom Cup stop in Russia for the Grand Prix Series. She finished 10th out of 10 skaters in the short program due to a fall on a triple flip and a popped Axel and ultimately withdrew before the free skate.

“The goal was just to show up and try to be brave,” she told media at the time.

She also skipped the 2019 national championships; instead, she gave a detailed and personal interview that week to the New York Times. Gold said she hasn’t ruled out competing this summer or fall.

“We check in every little bit like, ‘how are we thinking this is going?’ And then we’re both like, ‘Eh, we need more work.’”

That conversation happened in February, though a similar one took place days before our interview with Gold.

“We were just like, ‘we’ll compete again when we’re ready,’” she said, adding, “a lot of it’s my own issues. I’m sure I could compete a program with a couple triples in it.”

At first, gearing up for Gold’s ultimately abbreviated 2018-19 season, the team wanted to fix everything at once: jumps, spins, basic technique. That frazzled her. Now the focus is on physical fitness and athletic ability.

“That’s where we’re starting – not even figure skating shape,” Gold said. “When you’re in athletic shape, then you feel like you can be less embarrassed to go ice skating, then we can ice skate more. Then we can jump more, and spin more and train more. And then we can compete.”

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue already have 2020 Worlds in mind

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Gracie Gold opens up on TODAY about her battle with depression

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Two-time national champion and 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalist Gracie Gold appeared on TODAY on Friday to describe the details of her battle with depression and an eating disorder.

“I remember feeling kind of like a fraud in a way,” Gold said during the interview. “I was ‘America’s sweetheart’ or I was ‘the golden girl’ and I was afraid to be real with my struggles because then I wouldn’t be as perfect as the media saw me.”

She recalled playing a game with herself, seeing how low she could keep her caloric intake for the day.

“No one needs to eat two pizzas in a sitting,” Gold said. “But then throughout the week, I’d be like, ‘you can have three coffees and two apples’ — and also like, ‘hey, update, that’s not right either!'”

She said she planned to deal with it after she was done skating.

“It just got more and more extreme until it was just unbearable,” she said.

Gold also talked about attending Champs Camp in 2017, the pre-season evaluation for U.S. skaters.

“I remember feeling like, they don’t need me there because I’m this washed-up loser,” Gold recalled. “I’m toxic. They can see how bad it is. They can kick me off the team and then I can go about my sad life.”

She said she wasn’t “actively suicidal.”

“But I definitely was at a point where I didn’t see myself existing much longer. Honestly, I was gonna live until my money ran out.”

After therapy — which she said wasn’t a magic wand — she started to want to have more good days than bad days.

She said the “ultimate dream” is Beijing 2022, but winning a medal at the world championships would be a bigger deal than going back to the Olympics.

The full interview is below:

MORE: Gold talks to the New York Times

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Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook Day 1: Can U.S. Figure Skating’s junior world team help improve results?

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The next time you complain about working overtime, think of Timoki Hiwatashi and Ting Cui.

The young skaters distinguished themselves at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Mich., placing fourth and fifth, respectively, in the senior men’s and ladies’ divisions. Cui finished up her event the night of Jan. 25; Hiwatashi, on the afternoon of Jan. 27.

Both are age-eligible for the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia Mar. 4-10, and both were invited to U.S. Figure Skating’s first-ever World Junior Team Camp, held Sunday and Monday in Strongsville, Ohio. To no one’s surprise, they were selected for the U.S. World Junior Team.

From there, Cui and Hiwatashi journeyed to Anaheim, Calif. for the 2019 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Three major competitions and a monitoring camp, all in the space of six weeks.

MORE: Bradie Tennell, Vincent Zhou lead Four Continents after short programs

“I flew straight here, so it’s kind of been a crazy week after nationals,” Cui, 16, said.

The 19-year-old Hiwatashi, who wasn’t expecting his fourth-place finish and subsequent Four Continents’ assignment, is glad to be here but admitted the schedule was tough.

“Originally I was planning to go back (home) to Chicago, take a rest, I wasn’t expecting fourth,” Hiwatashi said, adding, “I guess I may be a little fatigued, but I try not to think about anything. I try to do the best recovery I can, the best warm-up I can, to come here and not get injured.”

Neither Cui nor Hiwatashi looked fatigued during their short programs at the Honda Center on Thursday. Cui skated clean, earning 66.73 points and seventh place for a Rachmaninov short that included a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination; Hiwatashi touched down his free leg on the landing of his triple Axel, but shone in the rest of his jazzy “Cry Me a River” program, earning 76.95 points for ninth place.

“I was just trying to be focused and do what I do in practice,” Cui said. “When I landed (the triple-triple) I was happy to be able to complete it. It wasn’t my best one but I was happy I did it.”

Tom Zakrajsek, who coaches Cui in Colorado Springs, Colo., doesn’t think his skater is overdoing things.

“She practices so intensely, I told her to just think of it as how you practice every day,” Zakrajsek said. “She likes to have an intense workload, so nationals with the Junior Worlds Camp and then (Four Continents) is just like three weeks of hard training. If anything, it’s made her do less than she normally does in training.”

Cui, Harrell hope to end Junior Worlds’ medal drought

The camp, which included singles’ skaters only, simulated competition of both the short programs and free skates, with skaters receiving protocols complete with element levels, grades of execution and program component scores. Zakrajsek was uncertain if the process helped Cui.

“Well…I’d guess yes,” he said. “I think competing here in Anaheim is really helpful for Ting. We do what we are told we have to do (by U.S. Figure Skating) and the camp is not negotiable.”

No U.S. lady has earned a medal at Junior Worlds since Gracie Gold took silver in 2012. In the six seasons since then, Russian and Japanese ladies have claimed all of the medals. The last U.S. lady to win the event was Rachael Flatt in 2008. Cui, the top U.S. finisher last season, placed seventh.

At the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, Russians Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kanysheva claimed the top three spots. No U.S. lady qualified.

Results like this helped give birth to the camp, said Justin Dillon, U.S. Figure Skating’s Director, High Performance Development.

“The data over the last couple of years has shown our skaters are not as consistent as we would like them to be,” Dillon said, attributing some of the deficit to lack of direct head-to-head competition.

“We want to put these athletes together for a little bit of training, and also competition,” he added.

Differences in event types – some of the skaters competed on the Junior Grand Prix, while others had their best performances at senior events – make direct comparisons difficult.

“For example, the energy was different for Gabriella Izzo, who won juniors in Detroit, than it was for the ladies competing as seniors,” Dillon said. “I would like to see them do junior programs side-by-side…Apples to apples is a better way for U.S. Figure Skating to evaluate the athletes.”

Hanna Harrell, fourth at the 2019 U.S. Championships, will join Cui in Croatia. Alex Krasnozhon, who placed fifth in Detroit, and Camden Pulkinen, who was 12th, round out the U.S. junior men’s team.

Other skaters considered at the camp were: on the ladies’ side, Starr Andrews (eighth in Detroit); Emmy Ma (ninth) and Izzo, the 2019 U.S. junior ladies’ champion. Andrew Torgashev, seventh in Detroit, attended the camp, as did the top two junior men’s finishers, Ryan Dunk and Dinh Tran.

U.S. men have fared better on the junior circuit than U.S. ladies. In recent years, Nathan Chen and Hiwatashi have earned medals at Junior Worlds, and Vincent Zhou won the event in 2017.  But while Pulkinen, Hiwatashi and Torgashev all qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final this season, none of them earned medals. (Torgashev withdrew from the event due to a fractured right big toe.)

According to Zakrajsek, while Pulkinen was disappointed by his programs in Detroit, his performances at the camp helped lift him to the team.

“At this camp, everyone stands around and watches you, including your competitors,” Zakrajsek said. “Eyes are on you the entire time, and Camden went out and did clean programs. He threw down a clean long program when he had to.”

The U.S. Championships and World Junior Team Camp are not the only criteria considered. The International Selection Committee also looks at performances on the Grand Prix circuit; placements at past World Junior Championships, and ISU Challenger Series’ performances.

“Camden did very well in Tier 2, 3 and 4 of the criteria, but in Tier 1, nationals, he didn’t,” Zakrajsek said. “At camp, we did some things a little different than we normally do, to help bring out his best.”

As for Cui, Zakrajsek thinks she’s capable of scoring an upset at the World Junior Championships.

“She has a maturity and a complete performance (quality) not all of the top girls have,” he said. “We know she can break 70 points in the short program, she did that at the Junior Grand Prix at Ostrava (in September; Cui placed seventh overall). She’s even stronger now. If she can break 70 in the short at Junior Worlds, she will be right in the medal hunt.”

MORE: How to watch Four Continents