Gracie Gold Moving On
2014 Olympic medalist announced as having joined the coaching staff of a rink in Arizona, ending her competitive career.
Throughout the past year, one of the biggest question marks of the American ladies’ scene has been Gracie Gold. Not whether she’d make the Olympics going on right now. That was looking unlikely even before she officially declared she wasn’t competing this season, getting treatment instead for depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. She instead showed up to Nationals as an observer, entertaining everyone considerably with her tweets, and making everyone glad she seemed, on the surface, at least, to be doing okay. It was only when she’d stepped aside that we’d learned about the mental health problems she’d been struggling with for years, that had finally caught up with her and caused her to go into a shocking decline during the 2017 season.
So now the question was whether she would compete again or not. She was young enough to do so, especially since in recent years ladies skaters have been lasting longer. At the moment, the U.S. ladies situation’s been open enough to make room for a skater of her level of pure talent. At the same time, it was always very understandable if she found it to be best for herself to not return to the kind of situation she’d been in, but to move on to a new, lower-pressure phase of her life.
That, it seems, is what she’s now decided to do. On Friday, the Ice Den skating rink in Scottsdale, Arizona announced she’s joining their coaching staff. They’ve recently been building up a stronger skating school in an unlikely location, and their sizable staff already includes two Olympians, so she’ll be in good company. She’s said in the past she was interested in becoming a coach when she retired, so this is what she’s been planning already, even if the way she got there was not what anyone expected.
From Stunning Talent to Another Kind of Inspiration
Throughout her career, Gracie Gold showed dazzling beauty and considerable technical prowess on ice. She also always had consistency issues, which in retrospect is understandable. They caused her career to get off to a slower start than it otherwise might have, when she failed to make 2011 Nationals. As a result, she only got one Junior Grand Prix event that fall, but that was enough to announce herself as arrived when she blew the field there out. She did the same when winning the Junior National title in 2012, and went on to the World Junior Championships, where she held her own with the young Russians to win silver.
Her first Grand Prix event that fall didn’t go too well, but she won the short program and the silver at her second. At 2013 Nationals, her short program left her ninth, but she had one of her best ever free skates to claw up to silver and her first trip to the World Championships:
After placing sixth at Worlds and helping the U.S. go back up to three ladies berths in time for the 2014 Olympics, she won her first National title decisively in 2014, and in Sochi, she was the U.S.’s best in ladies. She presented three impressive skates, two which got her fourth in the individual event, and a second-place free in the Team event that placed a huge part in getting the U.S. team bronze:
She would continue to impress through the next two seasons. In 2014, she claimed her one Grand Prix gold (not counting the 2015 Trophée Eric Bompard, where she won the short program, but the free skate was cancelled to the due to the ISIS attack in Paris) at the 2014 NHK Trophy, and made the Grand Prix Final, though a foot injury kept her from competing in it. Things culminated in a silver at Nationals and a fourth place at Worlds, where she had the second-place free skate. She made her only Grand Prix final appearance in 2015, where she placed fifth. In 2016, she reclaimed the National title. At Worlds, she won the short program on home ice, although this performance would ultimately take a bittersweet tinge, as it proved her peak before everything went downhill:
Her demons claimed her in the free skate, where she dropped to another fourth place finish, and she was never the same after that. Starting the next season, she began skating badly just about every time she took to the ice. Her final competition was 2017 Nationals, where she placed sixth.
Last fall, however, as she slowly withdrew from this season’s events, she began talking opening about things she’s only hinted at before, the mental health problems many skaters suffer from, but usually don’t talk about. The slow way she pulled out is indication enough of how hard a decision it had to be for her to choose what she did. But it takes a different kind of strength for someone in her position to do the right thing, to prioritize her mental health and well-being over the Olympics she’d remained under pressure to go for. It also sets a strong and healthy example for those who might have looked up to her, and in the future might face the same painful situation she’s had to cope with.
According to the press release, she’ll be teaching “advanced students of all ages.” What she’s been through will hopefully make her a wiser and better coach. And while she may not have been to sweeping success people once hoped she would be, she’ll still retire with an Olympic medal to her name and much to be proud of, both on and off the ice.