Gracie Gold Will Bring Glory Back to U.S. Women's Skating in Sochi

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2014

Gracie Gold performs during a skating spectacular following the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

Ashley Wagner rescued Team USA's chance for a medal in the new team figure-skating competition. Now, Gracie Gold has the chance to finish the job.

NBC Sports is projecting that Gold will perform the ladies' free skate on Sunday's final day of team competition.

Wagner rewarded the faith of the selection committee that named her to the Olympic team despite a fourth-place finish at U.S. nationals. With Team USA at risk of missing out on a chance to reach the finals in the team competition, Wagner skated a solid, defiant performance. She finished fourth to earn seven critical points for her team, putting them in the bronze-medal position with three events to go.

On Sunday, it's Gracie's chance to build on Ashley's great skate and further cement her spot as America's new "golden girl," if you'll pardon the expression.

It's been 12 years since the U.S. last won a gold medal in ladies' figure skating and eight years since there has been a medal at all. The Vancouver Games were the first time since 1964 that a female American singles skater did not earn a place on the podium.

A little hardware of any color from the brand new team competition would go a long way toward setting a positive tone as the skaters prepare to compete in their individual disciplines starting later this week.

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In just her second year of senior-level competition, the 18-year-old has developed rapidly, especially since legendary coach Frank Carroll took the reins last September. The 74-year-old found himself with some free time when he realized his 2010 gold medalist Evan Lysacek wouldn't be able to compete in Sochi due to injury. Carroll liked what he saw in Gracie's raw talent.

Gold will be performing her free program to music from "The Sleeping Beauty" the ballet by Russian composer Tchaikovsky. In addition to the athleticism of her jumps and spins, she has come a long way toward capturing the emotional expressiveness of a prima ballerina.

Gracie is also proving to be adept at handling the media attention that comes with being America's skating sweetheart. She was chosen as one of four Winter Olympians to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated's Olympic-themed issue, and her website shows sponsorship from several major corporations.

The best news for all those sponsors? Gracie's got charisma. She showed off her natural charm—along with her juggling abilities—when she visited Jay Leno at NBC's Tonight Show before heading to Sochi.

Gold had a smooth, assured ride through the U.S. nationals, but she's currently ranked just 11th in the world.

2010 Olympic gold medalist and 2013 world champion Yuna Kim of South Korea will be looking to defend her title and is facing challenges not only from veteran rivals like Japan's Mao Asada and Italy's Carolina Kostner but also from 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya. The Russian phenom brought the house down at the Iceberg Skating Palace with her winning short program in Saturday's team competition.

Gracie may not be ready to bring home individual gold in Sochi and live up to her name just yet, but she'll skate fearlessly: We know that anything can happen at the Olympics.

For long-term development, being a part of the Olympic skating-team experience, especially under captain Charlie White, could not be a better growth opportunity for a first-timer with the weight of a nation on her shoulders.

Contributing to the group's podium position on Sunday would be the first step in the ascension of Gracie Gold. If she stays true to her talented, charming self, America will support her all the way through the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.