It happens every four years.
And the arrival is as predictable as the 5:15 bus, with names like Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski and Kristi Yamaguchi splashed along the sides.
Someone resonates with a smile. Someone intoxicates with a personality. Someone’s star power becomes so undeniable that it grabs firm hold of even the mainstream American crowd that wouldn’t know a triple salchow from a double espresso.
In a little more than three weeks, that 2014 somebody will be Gracie Gold.
The 18-year-old pixie from Newton, Mass., certified her status as U.S. Figure Skating’s latest ladies flagship on Saturday night, when the lead she’d carved with a near-flawless short program to begin the event held up in the free skate to provide a record composite score of 211.69.
She’ll be off to Russia with Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds to represent the U.S. on a significant global stage for the first time since placing sixth in the 2013 World Championships in London, Ontario—a year after she’d taken second at the world junior event in Belarus.
But while those performances indicated fleeting glimmers of potential, the finished product that dazzled the full house at Boston’s TD Garden was an ethereal vision of composed and grown-up (near) perfection, a combination that’ll certainly come in handy come February in Sochi.
There, the U.S. will try to rebound from an epic 2010 fail in Vancouver, where it didn’t land anyone on the ladies’ medal podium for the first time since 1964.
Gold entered the weekend in Boston ranked ninth in the world by Ice Network.
Incidentally, Wagner, who finished fourth behind Gold, Edmunds and Mirai Nagasu in Boston, had been ranked second.
“This year, Gracie’s complete,” NBC analyst Scott Hamilton said on Saturday’s live broadcast. “When you watch her, there’s a maturity and a presence. This is what the sport really needs, a young, fresh skater who comes on the scene.
“She’s such a refreshing change from what we’ve seen over the last few years. There are so many stories and great personalities, but when you see her, it’s just wow.”
The oldest (by 40 minutes) of fraternal twin daughters born to an emergency-room nurse and an anesthesiologist, Gold’s novice career reached a significant national stage early in 2010—when she placed fourth on the entry level at the U.S Championships just months after turning 14.
Flaws in technical content left her out of the event a year later, but she returned with a well-rounded vengeance in 2012 and captured the domestic junior crown in San Jose, Calif., before heading to Minsk for the silver medal in the aforementioned world-stage event.
It was the masses’ first exposure to a Cinderella script she’d been working since childhood.
Gold’s parents, Denise and Carl, nurtured the solo personalities of their skating pair—her sister, Carly, also competes in senior-level events—by placing the two of them in separate classrooms and signing them up with different coaches as they initially took up the sport at age 8.
The Olympic dream took a tangible step after Gold’s freshman year of high school, when she left the family home in Springfield, Ill., to train full time in suburban Chicago. There, she lived with her mother and sister in a rented home a short drive from the training rink, while the family reunited as a whole on the weekends and at formal competitions.
Away from the ice, the would-be golden girl cues up Taylor Swift on her iPod, revels in her love of sushi and soy Americano coffee, sneaks away for the occasional peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, and scours the surroundings of arenas around the world for a quality manicure.
If there’s anyone out there looking for the next can’t-miss variety show, she’s a juggler, too.
“I haven’t progressed to anything harder than (hacky sacks),” she told USA Today’s Kelly Whiteside. “No knives, no fire, no bowling pins.” But she does a mean routine with airborne rings and has made 560 tosses without a drop. “It does help with your focus and eye-hand coordination. That’s not that impressive compared to professional jugglers, but it was for me.”
Oh, and for the clever producers at Live with Kelly and Michael, Saturday Night Live and the other pit stops she'll make between here and the Olympic Village, she’s well-aware her last name is the same as the medal.
But she’s not taking that little convenience as an automatic indicator of good fortune.
“There is always the next big thing, the next big skater," Gold said, per Whiteside. "Everyone saying, ‘She'll bring back women's skating. This will be the one to watch at the Olympics.’ And they say things that are so far away but really you have to bring it back in and look at the next competition, the next day, what you want to accomplish because if you get too far ahead of yourself you can trip yourself up.”
Gentlemen, start your endorsement deals.
Looks like this star-making bus will be pulling in right on time.