The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is just 7 months away and there are many athletes dreaming of a chance to compete for Olympic glory representing Team USA. For one Chicago teen, there's a very real chance that can happen. 17 year-old Gracie Gold of Elk Grove, Illinois is one of the favorites to secure a berth in US Olympic ladies figure skating team.
She made her mark on the skating scene starting in the 2009-2010 season where she rebounded from a 6th place short program to earn a 4th place pewter medal in the Novice division at the 2010 US Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Washington. The next season proved to be a struggle for Gold. Gold failed to qualify for the US Junior Nationals after a 6th place finish at Midwestern Sectionals. But Gold reinvented herself and with a newly-found arsenal of technical prowess. Her solid short program to Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," and a free program to the epic Ennio Morricone composed motion picture soundtracks of "The Mission," and "The Untouchables," proved to be a winning combination.
In October of 2011, impressive marks at an International Junior Grand Prix event in Estonia earned her the gold medal. In November of 2011 she returned to Midwestern Sectionals and captured the gold convincingly and had a competition score 58.83 points better than Sectionals the previous years. Gold punched her ticket to compete at the 2012 US Championships in San Jose in the junior division.
Gold proved to be junior skating's golden girl and cruised to an easy victory for a season hat trick. Her title ensured her a spot at the 2012 World Junior Championships being held in Minsk, Belarus in late February and early March. Gold's total completion scores were her weakest of her junior season, but she nonetheless closed out her junior career with a silver medal at Junior Worlds.
Gold was selected to represent Team USA at the 2012 ISU World Team Trophy in April in Tokyo. Her fifth place finish made for an impressive senior debut and she helped Team USA finish second overall. With an ideal name for an athlete and stunning results, Gold would enter the 2012-2013 season with newly found pressure.
For her first season as a senior competitor, Gold decided to skate to "Hernando's Hideaway" for her short program and music from the motion picture, "Life is Beautiful." She began the season at the 2012 US Classic in Salt Lake City in September. Gold's errors in both segments of the completion proved to be costly as she missed out on gold by 1.8 points and settled for second place. The following month at the 2012 Skate Canada International event, she had dismal 9th place and 6th place segment scores and placed 7th in her senior Grand Prix debut. Gold nevertheless picked up the pieces and put together a career best short program the following month at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia. Yet, Gold could not hang on to the lead and place 2nd.
Gold was now seen by many as a medal contender at the 2013 US Championships in January in Omaha, Nebraska. However, Gold made costly errors in her short program routine and found herself in 9th place. It seemed that Gold's debut senior Nationals would have to be a learning experience. But in the free program, Gold turned in a flawless free program and arguably the best free program since the glory days of 9-time US Champion Michelle Kwan. She ended up winning the free skate and losing out on the gold by two points. "This is my first U.S. championships [in seniors] and it was horrifying at the beginning, and now it's been amazing," the 17-year-old skater said. "I am so proud of myself that I was able to come back after my very, very bad short program. It's been the best I've ever done, especially this season," said Gold. "I think I've really improved a lot on my component marks, so I knew if I skated a perfect program, I would be able to pull up into the podium," she continued. "I was thinking maybe fourth, at best, and I ended up being second. I am so happy and so proud. But, I did think it was possible [to go from ninth to second]."
Gold went on to compete at the prestigious ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships the next month in Osaka, Japan. Gold faltered and settled for 6th place. Had Gold skated the way she did at US Nationals, she would have been a medalist.
In March, Gold headed to Canada for the World Figure Skating Championships. Gold and teammate Ashley Wagner needed strong results to give Team USA 3 spots at the Sochi Olympics. Gold delivered stunning performances and placed 6th and helped Team USA earn a maximum 3 spots in ladies figure skating at the Olympics.
With rejuvenated confidence, Gold headed to Japan in April and looked to help Team USA avenge its loss to Team Japan at last year's ISU World Team Trophy. Gold earned a career best competition score for a 3rd place finish which would help Team USA win the team title. "It's a great way to end the season. I'm really happy with it," said Gold. Along with the 3rd place finish, Gold was also pleased with her debut senior season. "This season was very challenging but ultimately very rewarding. I learned a lot about myself, and how to handle the pressure of skating at the Worlds level. I think I proved to others, and myself, that I belong with the best of the best. This year I had to fight through some tough moments, but I survived and I think I'm stronger because of it."
Gold is now training rigorously in pursuit of her Olympic dream. Although she has not revealed her short program, the Illinois teen sensation will skate to Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" for her long program. She begins the Olympic season in October at the 2013 Skate Canada International. The event will be a tough test for Gold as she will be facing world class skaters like reigning Olympic Champion Yuna Kim of South Korea. She will also compete in Japan at the 2013 NHK Trophy in November where she also has tough competition as 2010 Olympic silver medalist will be headlining the ladies field. And the of course she will head to US Nationals in January where she needs to place in the Top 3 to go to the Olympics. Despite the tough road ahead, Gold has lofty ambitions. "My main goal for this season is to qualify for the Olympic Games. My ultimate season's goal would be to score 200+ and make the podium."