Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner Show All Is Not Lost for US Ladies' Figure Skating

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Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner Show All Is Not Lost for US Ladies' Figure Skating
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Gracie Gold.

Such a name to have at the Olympics...Gold.

The American who trains near Los Angeles under coach Frank Carroll couldn't have been named Sally Silver. Not quite so much to live up to for an Olympic figure skater.

Gold, the recently crowned American women's champion, an 18-year-old with a puncher's fight combined with an easy smile, made her Olympic debut Sunday in the team event. Even if she couldn't overcome the silky superiority of Russia's 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, who scored a 141.51 in her nearly perfect long program in the figure skating team competition, Gold made her debut with aplomb.

Also without a major mistake, Gold scored 129.38 and made a statement. The American women, who weren't given much chance of standing on the medal podium in the individual competition, might have two skaters with medal chances.

Entering Sochi, Gold and Wagner had never done anything notable on the world stage, but now they suddenly seem capable of walking away with some hardware.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Ashley Wagner skated the short program for the U.S. in this new event, and while she didn't display the emotional elegance of Lipnitskaya or the fierce fight of Gold, she was solid. Sometimes in the Olympics, when nerves can make the ice feel more slippery than usual, when a little rut can seem as big as the Mississippi River, solid can be good enough.

The Russians, as expected, took the gold medal in the first-ever figure skating team competition, finishing with 75 points. It was also the first win in these games for the Russians, while Canada won silver with 65 points and the U.S. took the bronze with 60.

Gold played to character Sunday, skating a long program to the music of Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty." Her blonde hair was pulled into a perfect princess bun, and her smile at the end of the program was that of the 18-year-old grown-up that she is.

Carroll, Gold's coach, told reporters in Sochi that she is, "Incredibly elegant. She has a beautiful face, a beautiful body and she's long and jumps high, almost as if she floats through the air. I believe she has the complete package."

If Gold's package is more compelling, Wagner showed in her short program that she can be solid and just as nerveless as Gold.

Gold made her Olympic debut with ease and seemingly with a clear head even if she said otherwise. "Inside I had some nerves," Gold told reporters in Sochi in the mixed zone after her performance. "But I'm happy with what I did. I think I have a chance for the podium."

While Gold and Wagner were able to skate out some kinks in the team competition, it became easy to forget about Korea's Yuna Kim.

Her country didn't qualify for the team event, but Kim is the defending Olympic gold medalist. While watching Lipnitskaya and Gold, you can lose track of the fact that Kim won in Vancouver by a record-setting score. 

Maybe we'll find out if the team competition helps or hurts the skaters. Maybe Gold and Wagner will have emotional letdowns or physical ones and that Kim was the fortunate skater, waiting patiently to win the medal most skaters really want—the individual gold.

After Gold won the U.S. nationals last month, Carroll told reporters that she is very much a perfectionist, a quality that both helps and hurts her. 

"If she misses a jump, it affects the rest of her program," Carroll said at nationals. "What she needs to find is the confidence that she's good enough to keep going and still do well."

Gold didn't need to do that Sunday. She had no falls, which shows just how far ahead Lipnitskaya is with all her elements—not only the solid jumps and her ice coverage, but the spins that brought standing ovations.

Wagner skated only in the short program, but it was a chance for her to release her nerves as well, and her solid, if unspectacular, skate could help the U.S. get at least one medal if Gold were to have a meltdown.

Pool/Getty Images

At the Olympic media summit, Gold told reporters in attendance that sometimes, "I have too much going on in my head."

Sunday she said, "I just tried to keep my mind focused, and I think I did."

At those nationals in Boston, Carroll told reporters, "Gracie is the future of American skating."

Her performance Sunday in Sochi indicated, at least, that she is the future of the American women in Russia. If there is an American "lady" on the podium Feb. 20, it will most likely be Gold. Even if she has to settle for a silver medal, it should feel like gold.

 

Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered seven Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.

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