Suburban rinks, coaches polished Gracie Gold
Gracie Gold, chasing an Olympic medal in figure skating to match her name, made her mark at suburban rinks for her jumps, her smiles and her dog, Yoshi.
The 18-year-old U.S. national champion skated at area rinks for about five years. And while the music, glittery costumes and crowds make elite figure skating one of the most glamorous of sports, getting to this level means spending a lot of time at the same rinks where 3-year-olds stagger across the ice.
In Gold's case, that included Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove, Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills.
While her father, Carl, continued his work as an anesthesiologist in Springfield, Gracie and her mother, Denise, and twin sister, Carly, also a skater, lived in Elk Grove Village, a good spot for commuting to all the rinks. And regulars at all three rinks remember her.
It's hard work -- and luck -- that takes a figure skater to the rarefied spot that Gold holds today, said Alex Ourashiev of Buffalo Grove, who was her coach until last summer.
"Hard work is No. 1," Ourashiev said. "And some talent, but you don't necessarily have to be extremely talented."
Besides at least three hours a day on the ice six days a week, an elite skater spends hours in other training, such as ballet, he said. During this odyssey, the Gold sisters took online high school classes.
It was impossible to tell what Gold or any 12- or 13-year-old would achieve in the sport, Ourashiev said . "She was a good young skater when I met her, but it was only two years ago when I started to believe she might compete with Olympians."
Observers credit Ourashiev with helping Gold craft the jumps that have made her famous.
"I wish her good luck because those are 100 percent my jumps," he said. "I worked very hard to prepare her for this year and the Olympics."
Those jumps helped Gold finish second in the free skate portion of the team figure skating event Sunday, leading the U.S. team to a bronze medal.
Ourashiev, once the Ukrainian men's champion, dreamed of going to the Olympics as Gold's coach, but she and her parents decided to leave him and the suburbs to work with Frank Carroll in suburban Los Angeles. Neither Gold nor Ourashiev has detailed publicly why the split occurred. Carroll has coached three world champions, including Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek of Naperville. Gold won the U.S. championship last month under Carroll's tutelage.
Ourashiev was not the only elite coach available to Gold in the suburbs.
Scott Brown of Colorado, who flies in regularly to work with Twin Rinks skaters, was Gold's choreographer and now coaches her along with Carroll.
Gold's current choreographers include Oleg Epstein, who lives in Glen Ellyn and hopes to continue spending time working at Center Ice, said Sandi Marshinski, rink manager.
Brown comes to Buffalo Grove especially to work with coach Denise Myers' skaters, said Laura Kaplan, Twin Rinks skating director. He started working with Gold in 2011.
At the nationals early in 2013, Gold's performance in the short program placed her ninth, almost ruining her chances to medal in her first year as a senior skater. But her long skate moved her up to second place, an almost unheard of comeback. This year, she was almost unbeatable after the short program and could have coasted to the gold. Instead, she finished with record scores for nationals in both programs under the judging system in place since 2004.
"We really worked on trying to have her connect with the audience and judges, work on her performance," Brown said during a recent visit to Twin Lakes. "Her programs are sophisticated and elegant and a bit more calm," with the short program arranged to Edvard Grieg's "Piano Concerto," and music for her free skate from Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty."
"For most athletes the short is very difficult because it is the start of the event," said Brown "There's a lot riding on the short. It determines the skating order of the long program."
Gold's triumphs began at the suburban rinks that were practically her home, Brown said.
"I don't think I had ever seen a more extraordinary female skater," he said of his early days with Gold. "She is a phenomenal jumper. People have really tried to box her in to just being a jumper, but she has grown into being an artist and a performer."
While figure skating is an individual sport, skaters at Gold's level have a number of people on their team, including two sports psychologists, Brown said. "They have both been key in her mental toughness and really trying to keep herself with the plan -- calm and still be able to deal with the distractions and crazy thoughts that get in your head."
And as "Tonight Show" viewers know, Gold deals with stress by juggling -- lemons for Jay Leno, but usually Hacky Sacks before competition.
Eric Schneider, general manager of Glacier Ice, called Gold charismatic.
"That smile you saw when she knew she'd nailed it at nationals, that's the way she was every day she walked around this rink," he said. "If she does well, she'll be the face of U.S. figure skating for a long time."
Fifteen-year-old Bradie Tennell of Carpentersville, who starts her international career next month at a competition in Italy, found Gold's performances at Twin Rinks inspirational.
"I used to watch her skate and think that's so cool. Now I can do some of the things -- not her bigger jumps, but some of the other things I try," Bradie said. "She's a nice person, fun to be around and very hard working. I'm inspired by her going to the Olympics."
Bradie spends so much time on ice that her two brothers say they are "rink schooled," not home schooled, said her mother, Jean Tennell.
Everyone asks about Gracie's twin sister, Carly, also a good skater, but not like Gracie, the one in a million who makes it to the Olympics.
"Carly is so supportive, and Gracie and she are best friends," said Jean Tennell. "It doesn't seem to bother her."
Marshinski, the Glen Ellyn rink manager, agreed the Gold family is very close-knit, revealing that even the family's small Japanese Chin dog, Yoshi, showed up at the rink.
"Everyone loved having her here and watching her grow as a skater," she said.