Gracie Gold Must Set the Tone for Sochi with Her Performance in Team Free Skate

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Gracie Gold Must Set the Tone for Sochi with Her Performance in Team Free Skate
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

She is the golden girl of U.S. figure skating, and the hopes are that she will bring home a medal when she skates in the women's championships in Sochi. However, before Gracie Gold skates for individual glory, she will perform in the free skate portion of the team figure skating competition.

That's where Gold can set the tone for her performance in the Olympics.

Gold, 18,  was able to see teammate Ashley Wagner rebound with a strong performance in the short program after a disastrous showing at the U.S. Championships in Boston last month.

Gold won the national championship and let U.S. officials know that she would have been happy to skate both of the women's portions in the team figure skating event. However, the nod went to Wagner, and she skated a clean program.

Wagner's selection to the U.S. team was controversial because she finished fourth in the U.S. Championships, and many thought third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu was a more deserving selection. However, Wagner had won the national championship in 2012 and 2013, so she got the nod.

Wagner, 22, did not like the 63.10 score the judges gave her that placed her in fourth for the short program, and she though she deserved a higher mark. 

"I know roughly when I skate a good program where the score should end up," Wagner told Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports. "So to score that low was very disappointing. "I was hoping to score around somewhere close to my personal best (69.26)."

But Wagner was happy with the way she skated, and now the ball is firmly in Gold's court. Gold will have a chance to skate the longer freestyle program Sunday night. 

Gold is hoping to build off the performance she had in Boston at the national championships. She scored a 139.57 in the free skate, and that ranked first among all competitors. That skate came after a first-place performance in the short portion of the program.

The competition in Sochi will obviously be quite a bit stiffer for Gold. South Korea's Kim Yuna and Japan's Mao Asada are two of the favorites to compete for the top spot on the podium, and 15-year-old Russian skater Yulia Lipnitskaya is a threat for gold as well.

Lipnitskaya is bound to be a favorite of the Russian fans, especially after winning the European championship. She is an artful skater who draws the audience in as she performs.

The strength of Kim, Asada and Lipnitskaya means that Gold is going to have to be flawless if she is going to have a chance in the most glamorous event of the Winter Olympics.

While her score in the team event won't impact the numbers she receives in the individual event, she needs to have the confidence that comes with establishing herself in the competitive arena.

If she struggles in the team free skate, it's going to be quite difficult for her to go into the individual event feeling good about herself.

Frank Carroll, Gold's skating coach, seems to know this as well. He has been trying to build her confidence by telling her that the U.S. Championships was the most pressure-filled environment, and the Olympics should be easier.

That's because she couldn't have made it to Sochi without a strong performance in the nationals, and now that she's accomplished that goal, everything else is gravy.

“She seems to be buying it,” Carroll told Rachel Cohen of the Associated Press (h/t The Washington Times). “You never know until the moment of truth.

That moment is at hand, and the whole world will be waiting to see if Gold can put on a medal-worthy performance in the team free skate.

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