On any given day, Gracie Gold of Elk Grove Village could have been found training on the ice at rinks in Glen Ellyn or Vernon Hills, skating fairly anonymously under the watchful eye of her coach, Alex Ouriashev.
Not anymore. Not after the 17-year-old pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of women's figure skating on Saturday, when she pulled up from 9th place after the short program to nearly win the U.S. national figure skating championship.
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Her flawless free skate program, skated to the "Life is Beautiful" soundtrack, earned her 11 points more than the eventual gold medal winner, Ashley Wagner, and the second highest score awarded after a ladies' free skate.
"It was amazing," Gold said afterward.
She admits she had to "settle my knees" and concentrate on her elements after her disastrous start in the short program. It was, after all, only her first appearance in the senior division of the U.S. Figure Skating Association championships.
"I knew if I had any chance of redeeming myself, I had to focus on every single detail of my program," Gold said.
Landing her opening triple Lutz triple toe loop combination was the key. It drew cheers from the crowd and it bolstered Gold.
"If I had missed that jump, I never would have been able to pull up," Gold said. "When I landed it, it gave me so much confidence. It just set the whole program."
To do that, she says, she had to tune out the crowd as much as possible at the Century Link Center in Omaha, and skate her program like she does in practice.
Originally from the East Coast, up until this year Gold had been living in Springfield and commuting to suburban rinks for her training, including Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills and Twin Rinks in Buffalo Grove.
This year, she and her twin sister, Carly -- who also competes in the senior ladies' division -- and their mother, Denise, moved to a house in Elk Grove Village, roughly half the distance between Glen Ellyn and Vernon Hills, to ramp up their training.
Every week, they spend an average of 20 hours training, they say, with three and a half hours on the ice, as well as ballet classes and off-ice training.
They also keep up with their academics. Both girls are on track to graduate this spring, having completed their high school degrees with an online school.
"We're able to fit in classes really well," Gold says. "We're both smart and really disciplined, so it's going well."
This week, when Gold returns to practice, she knows what her priority will be: shoring up her short program.
"I'm really going to try to skate the short program cleanly, and get it back on track," she says. "And then I'll keep training, like any other week."
Except that this week will lead up to her departure for the Four Continents Championships, in Osaka, Japan, which opens Feb. 6. After that, she prepares for the World Figure Skating Championships, opening March 9 in London, Ontario.
Both events will put Gold squarely on the world stage and out from skating under the radar in the North and West suburbs.