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Gold's 'Sleeping Beauty' no pretty little princess

Independent Gao takes charge of future; Czisny on way back
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Gracie Gold is not naming the character she plays in her 'Sleeping Beauty' free skate. -Getty Images

When Gracie Gold announced her free skate was set to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, some thought she would portray Aurora, the princess who slumbers for 100 years before being kissed and carried away by a handsome prince.

Not so fast. Another character, the fairy Carabosse, sets the tale in motion when she casts a curse on the princess. On some levels, the Chicago-based teen enjoys playing that evil whirlwind more than the gentle Aurora.

"Hopefully, I look more like Aurora than Carabosse, but I'm not the dainty little princess," Gold, 18, said. "We're not naming the character I play, but if I had to pick, it would definitely be more of a power witch and less of the lost princess."

"I definitely am more of the athletic type of skater; that's naturally my trait," she continued. "I am known for the technical elements over the program components (PCS). I am built more like an athlete; I love to work out, I love to go running."

Gold, and other members of the U.S. international team, spent last week at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp, the annual training and evaluation get-together held at Colorado Springs' Olympic Training Center.

U.S. skaters entered in Grand Prix events showed their short programs and short dances to officials, judges and technical specialists Wednesday; free skates and free dances followed Thursday.

Gold's programs, including a short to Gershwin's "Three Preludes," feature her signature triple Lutz-triple toe combination. The Sleeping Beauty free skate also includes a double Axel-triple toe, as well as four triple jumps in the second half.

After debuting the free skate at Skate Milwaukee last month, the skater and her coach, Alex Ouriashev, changed the patterns leading in to several of the jumps. Gold thinks those changes will lead to greater consistency.

"Pretty much the jumps are the same as last year, points-wise," she said. "We are working to enhance the second mark (program components) and trying to get all of my spin levels, and we're going for Level 4 on the step sequence."

The program's choreographers, Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein, encouraged Gold to watch the ballet to help learn the nuances of the music and characters.

"They've shown me tons of videos," Gold said. "It's a little different style for me, playing more of a character all the way through. It has the Carabosse at the beginning, it's slower in the middle part, and the third part is the Sleeping Beauty we all really know."

"As I train it, it will get more and more powerful," she continued. "I think [last season's free skate to] Life is Beautiful was sort of missing that power I think I need to have."

As for the Gershwin short, Gold and Ouriashev have put two jumps, the solo triple flip and double Axel, in the second half to qualify for the 10-percent bonus.

"The short is coming along really well. I've been doing really nice run-throughs in practice," Gold said. "The whole structure of the program, the choreography and elements, blends really well, I think. The choreography is a lot more complex [than it was last season]. We're hoping for a lot higher interpretation and transition scores."

Fired-up Gao won't settle for fifth

It seems every year at Champs Camp, a skater (or two) sports a protective walking boot. This year was Christina Gao's turn.

"I had a little pain in my [right] foot a few weeks ago when I was walking around," the 19-year-old said. "It didn't hurt when I was skating, but we didn't want to wait until it started to hurt. So, they put me in a boot, but I'm starting to wean off of the boot right now."

The Harvard student, who is coached by Peter Johansson and Mark Mitchell at the Skating Club of Boston, has placed fifth at the last four U.S. championships. She intends to break that string this season and capture one of the three U.S. Olympic ladies spots.

"I took last spring semester off, and I'm taking this fall semester off so I can train," Gao said. "Last fall was really, really busy. Although I skated well, it was tough for me mentally and physically."

Gao won a silver medal at Skate America and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, where she placed sixth.

Like many of the athletes at Champs Camp, Gao was inspired by the words of 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, who delivered the keynote address.

"Scott Hamilton said, 'It's the Olympics -- there are no woulda, coulda, shoulda's,'" she said. "The Olympics is what everyone dreams of. I have this one shot at it, and that's why I took time off [from Harvard]. I'm going for it."

Along with Gao's resolve come changes in her training.

"I upped my off-ice [workouts] so that I'm really strong physically," she said. "I think that was one of my problems before; I was never as strong as I could be, and I doubted myself because of it."

Gao has occasionally lost ground with her spins, most notably at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She's confronting this relative weakness head on.

"I think at this level everybody can do a Level 4 spin; it's a matter of who can do it in the program," she said. "My problem was, I was always able to do great spins outside of the program, [but] every time they would go into my program, they were weak and slow and I messed them up.

"I've been adding extra spin lessons, just focusing on spins for half an hour and just doing the same spin over and over with the steps and music -- no jumps, just spins."

The programs Gao hopes will take her to Sochi are a short to Kostia and David Arkenstone's "Close Without Touching" and free to Hans Zimmer's Angels and Demons soundtrack.

"Even though [the short] is the same music as last season, we changed the choreography a lot, just because I've been able to move my body more," she said. "I want to show people I'm different, that I'm stronger and more powerful. I almost want it to seem like a different program than last season."

The free skate is new, choreographed by Tom Dickson.

"At first, I was hesitant about the free," Gao said. "I told Mark and Peter, 'Look, I don't know if can do this, I need a new long.' They said, 'No, you don't.'

"[In the program] I go from good angel to bad angel, and I think it's exciting. It's starting to grow on me. It's a battle between good and bad."

Gao, who spent part of her summer tutoring high school students for SAT and AP tests, thinks the independence she has gained from living on her own in Boston has given her the strength to take charge of her competitive future.

"I've had to take care of things myself, things you don't normally think of, like a flat tire," she said. "I could think, 'I don't know how to deal with this tire. I'm a 19-year-old girl, what the heck.' But just having to deal with things and people on your own matures you as a person.

"Changes have been made, good changes. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get a spot on the Olympic team, and skating well at nationals should do that for me."

Reporter's notebook: Two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny, who underwent hip surgery in January, did not attend Champs Camp. Her coach, Jason Dungjen, reports the 26-year-old skater is making good progress: "The [double] Axel is going well, the triple toe is going well, and she is landing flips and Lutzes pretty much every day now. The only thing we really have left is [triple] loop and getting her back in shape for her programs. There is talk of sending her to France (Cup of Nice). She is doing a local competition in September, because obviously she has to do something 35 days before [an international assignment]." 

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