Gracie Gold Is New National Skating Ladies’ Champion, But Controversy Brewing Over Olympic Selection

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Gracie Gold takes a curtain call after winning the ladies competition at the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on Jan. 11, 2014 in Boston.

Never boring, figure skating sees upset in the ladies’ event.

Charismatic Gracie Gold has finally lived up to her name. Both graceful and golden in her free skate on Saturday, Gold set a record with her fluid interpretation of Sleeping Beauty to win her first national title and practically guarantee a spot on the Olympic team.

Gold’s prince this season, who awakened the newly-crowned princess of American figure skating, was Frank Carroll, the veteran coach who masterminded Michelle Kwan’s career and guided Evan Lysacek to an Olympic gold in 2010. Carroll admitted that “I didn’t leap at the chance of taking her” when he was asked to add Gold to his roster of skaters last summer. He was already working with Lysacek, who was hoping to defend his Olympic title until he was sidelined by an injury, and Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, who finished second at the world championships last year. With Lysacek no longer training in earnest, Carroll says, “I thought, ‘You can help this girl.’”

Help her he did. Gold was the last skater of the event, which can be nerve-wracking, but she wasn’t aware of the devastating skate by reigning champion Ashley Wagner. Wagner, who has said all season that her goal was to earn a spot to the Games, had two falls and left out a jump from one of her combinations, kicking open the door to Sochi for Polina Edmunds, who finished second; Mirai Nagasu who finished third; and Gold, who was leading after the short program. Wagner just missed joining Nagasu and Rachel Flatt on the 2010 Olympic team in Vancouver and dedicated this season to not letting that happen again.

Whether that effort was successful or not will be up to the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) selection committee. The top three finishers at these nationals, which also serve as the Olympic trials, are not guaranteed berths on the Olympic team. But the placements are considered, as are each skaters’ performance throughout the season. Wagner competed well all year, the only skater to qualify for the Grand Prix final in the ladies’ event. But Nagasu has Olympic experience; she skated two remarkable programs at the 2010 Games in Vancouver to finish fourth. The committee will weigh those performances, along with the trials, in deciding who to send to Sochi.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Edmunds qualifies to compete at Sochi based on scores she earned this season as a junior skater. The International Skating Union (ISU) has both scoring and age standards for competing at a Games, which include amassing a certain amount of points from ISU-sanctioned international events (national championships don’t count). Edmunds competed throughout the season as a junior internationally, but because the U.S. has no age restrictions for the senior level, she made her debut at the senior level at these national championships and completed all the required elements for a senior short and long program. Even when senior skaters miss competitions due to injury, they still must accumulate these qualifying points in order to make their respective national Olympic teams. That’s why South Korean Yuna Kim, who sat out the competitive season because of injury, skated at the Golden Spin of Zagreb in December in order to earn a spot on her country’s Olympic team.

The USFSA’s selection committee won’t have an easy 24 hours; the federation will consider Edmunds’ junior status before making a decision and announcing the Olympic team on Sunday. “That’s a tough one for the selection committee,” says Carroll. “How can you deny Mirai after that performance tonight? How can you deny Wagner after all she has done, twice champion, and the only girl making the [Grand Prix] Series final? Thank God it’s not me, and I’m not going to think much about it.”

With her first-place finish, Gold is likely assured a spot, however, and is already looking forward to the possibility of being among the first singles skaters to earn two medals at a Games — if she competes in the team event that will debut in Sochi. “I definitely signed myself up for the team event. To go to Sochi and have the chance to earn two medals for the first time, is history in the making, and I don’t want to miss out on that. I don’t want to miss out on anything if I go.”