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Road to Omaha: Gold adds polish, counts points

Reigning U.S. junior champ hopes trip to Canton, Mich., helps her land spot on world team

Gracie Gold is out to prove she belongs among the top senior ladies in the U.S.
Gracie Gold is out to prove she belongs among the top senior ladies in the U.S. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/10/2013) - If Gracie Gold makes the leap from U.S. junior champion to U.S. senior world team member at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha this month, she will have her up-and-down Grand Prix season to thank.

"I didn't have my best skates at Skate Canada," the 17-year-old told reporters on a teleconference Wednesday. "I'm disappointed I let my nerves, and the atmosphere, get into my head. But I channeled all of that into training and was much better prepared for Russia [Rostelecom Cup]."

In the weeks after her disappointing seventh-place finish in Canada, Gold worked with a sports psychiatrist to refine her mental focus for big-time senior competition. She traveled to Canton, Mich., training hub of Olympic and world champion ice dancers, to add extra layers of detail to her programs.

By the time she got to Moscow, she felt like she belonged and skated two solid programs to win the silver medal.

"Russia helped her a lot," said Alex Ouriashev, who coaches Gold in the Chicago area. "Now, she is a very, very motivated and smart skater. She is not only doing the jumps -- she is doing a lot of good, clean programs. She's practicing sections of the programs, not just the jumps and spins.

"Now, she really believes in herself, and I believe in her, too."

Since Moscow, Ouriashev has tinkered with Gold's programs to build his skater's burgeoning confidence while still squeezing maximum points out of her elements.

In the free skate, choreographed by Scott Brown to Nicola Piovani's Life is Beautiful soundtrack, the triple flip-half loop-triple Salchow sequence -- which Gold landed at the 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City in September -- was dropped in favor of a more reliable double Axel-triple toe. Her final jump is now a triple Salchow.

"[The Axel-toe] is more consistent. She feels more confident with it and points-wise. It has the same [base value]," Ouriashev said. "Usually, its GOE (grade of execution) gets more pluses, a plus 1 or 2, sometimes even a plus 3, from the judges."

The change leaves Gold's biggest guns -- her triple Lutz-triple toe combination, plus a second triple Lutz -- intact, but she will do just one triple flip in her free.

"[Salchow] is a very comfortable jump for her, and now she has four triples in the second half of the program, which adds up to more points," Ouriashev said. "We calculated everything, and U.S. Figure Skating helped us a lot."

The double Axel in Gold's "Hernando's Hideaway" short, on which she fell at Skate Canada, had earlier been moved to the first half of the program.

"She does triple flip-triple toe, the triple Lutz with both arms overhead, and then a split jump into the double Axel," Ouriashev said. "You're a little bit more tired in the second half, and we found it did not make sense to do the Axel late when she can do it in the first half and get pluses [from the judges]. It's a solid jump for her."

Gold's time with Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein in Canton, which also included a short stint right after Christmas, didn't result in any changes to her step sequences or spins, but transitions between elements -- a spiral into a triple, an Ina Bauer out of double Axel -- have been added.

"I'm still working with Scott [Brown] on my programs, and I also worked with Marina a lot," Gold said. "We changed a few of the set-ups to jumps, and the programs flow better ... I'm excited to show them at nationals."

"My point sending her [to Canton] was, she could there learn about how to win from the best ice dancers in the world," Ouriashev said. "She can feel how these people train and learn how each hand movement, each facial expression, is important.

"[The free skate] looks way better. Even her triple Lutz-triple toe, her arm goes up on the landing. It's little details here and there."

Gold realizes that once she arrives in Omaha, the spotlight could be a bit glaring. While defending champion Ashley Wagner is considered the favorite for the title, many eyes will be on the teenager to see if she hits her jumps and fulfills the promise of her junior title and silver medal at the 2012 World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

"I don't focus on placement going in; I can only do two clean programs, and I'll see what I get," Gold said. "I would like to improve on Cup of Russia. If I skate two clean programs, the placement will take care of itself.

"Many people would consider it as pressure, but I'm trying to stay in the moment ... I would love to represent the U.S. at worlds -- that would be a huge step -- but mostly right now, I'm looking to skate strong at nationals."