Skat­ing star’s fu­ture un­cer­tain

Bren­nan: Gold’s with­drawal leaves ques­tions

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Chris­tine Bren­nan

Gra­cie Gold’s captivating jour­ney in the sport of fig­ure skat­ing, at times ex­hil­a­rat­ing, at other times trou­bling, took yet an­other turn Wednesday evening when the 23-year-old two-time na­tional cham­pion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medal­ist with­drew from the up­com­ing na­tional cham­pi­onships in Detroit.

Gold said on In­sta­gram that this isn’t the end for her, that she’s al­ready work­ing hard to “get a jump start” on next sea­son, with the 2022 Win­ter Olympics in Bei­jing be­ing her ul­ti­mate goal.

But af­ter un­der­go­ing treat­ment for what she said was de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and an eat­ing disor­der in 2017 and miss­ing the 2018 Olympic sea­son, then hav­ing a very dif­fi­cult time when she re­turned to com­pe­ti­tion two months ago, Gold’s path for­ward is any­thing but cer­tain.

Al­though it is only nat­u­ral to frame the con­ver­sa­tion about Gold in ath­letic terms, there should be only one con­cern for her now, and that should be for her per­sonal well-be­ing.

Her Novem­ber 2018 at­tempt to re­turn to the sport for the first time since the U.S. na­tion­als in Jan­uary 2017 was alarm­ing to all who watched. Still not in com­pet­i­tive shape, she none­the­less went to Rus­sia to com­pete in a Grand Prix event against nine other in­ter­na­tional skaters, in­clud­ing 2018 Olympic gold medal­ist Alina Zag­i­tova.

Gold clearly wasn’t ready, fin­ish­ing 10th in the short pro­gram, un­able to land any of the triple jumps that once came so ef­fort­lessly to her. She with­drew be­fore the long pro­gram. But what came next, on Twit­ter, was even more trou­ble­some.

“I thought check­ing into treat­ment last fall was the most dif­fi­cult thing I’ve ever done,” Gold wrote, “but skat­ing my short pro­gram last night might have topped it. … The only place to go from here is up. … I’m heart­bro­ken to with­draw from tonight’s free skate. It was a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to make, but ul­ti­mately I need to put my men­tal health first and fo­cus on the big pic­ture. Look­ing for­ward, I need to keep im­prov­ing both my phys­i­cal and men­tal con­di­tion. … I do not want to undo the tremen­dous progress I’ve made in these last few months and I feel that com­pet­ing the free skate would be da­m­ag­ing to both my con­fi­dence and men­tal health go­ing into Na­tion­als.”

Of course, now she’s not go­ing to na- tion­als at all. But there’s a big­ger is­sue here. As the Grand Prix event ap­proached, it would have been clear to any num­ber of of­fi­cials and coaches within the U.S. Fig­ure Skat­ing com­mu­nity that Gold was not ready to com­pete. While she cer­tainly is al­lowed to call the shots for her own ca­reer, part of any top skater’s prepa­ra­tion for an im­por­tant com­pe­ti­tion is to be mon­i­tored by USFS judges and/or of­fi­cials.

Why some­one didn’t speak out and sug­gest that Gold was not yet ready to com­pete is un­known. Nu­mer­ous phone calls and emails try­ing to get an an­swer to that ques­tion went un­re­turned.

Per­haps some­one — even Gold her­self — thought she ab­so­lutely had to get back into a top-notch skat­ing com­pe­ti­tion and see how it felt.

But, based on what she then wrote on Twit­ter, was it worth it? How could it have been?

With her scin­til­lat­ing talent, her per­fect last name and her movie star looks, Gold ap­peared to have it all. She nearly won an in­di­vid­ual medal in the 2014 Olympic women’s event, fin­ish­ing fourth, and did win the bronze with her U.S. team­mates in the in­au­gu­ral Olympic team com­pe­ti­tion. She was just 18. The 2018 Win­ter Games beck­oned. So did 2022, even though it’s the rare skater who gets the chance to go to more than one Olympic Games.

But then Gold found her­self on a pre­cip­i­tous and alarm­ing slide, start­ing at the 2016 world cham­pi­onships in Bos­ton, when, in first place af­ter the short pro­gram, she fell to fourth over­all. All of a sud­den, the sim­plest jumps be­came dif­fi­cult. Af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing fifth­place fin­ish that Oc­to­ber at Skate Amer­ica, the U.S. Grand Prix event, she spoke boldly about the pres­sure she felt.

“You don’t of­ten see — there aren’t that many — you just don’t see over­weight fig­ure skaters for a rea­son,” she said. “It’s just some­thing I’ve strug­gled with this whole year and in pre­vi­ous sea­sons. It’s just dif­fi­cult when you’re try­ing to do the dif­fi­cult triple jumps. It’s some­thing that I am ad­dress­ing but it’s ob­vi­ously not where it should be for this cal­iber of com­pe­ti­tion.”

Within three months, Gold would fin­ish a dis­heart­en­ing sixth at the na­tional cham­pi­onships, then dis­ap­pear from the sport for nearly two years while fo­cus­ing on her­self and her treat­ment.

She came back briefly in Novem­ber for the event in Rus­sia, and now she is gone again.

She says she’s go­ing to keep try­ing, and with all that she has been through, that in and of it­self is ad­mirable, come what may.

GRA­CIE GOLD BY EVAN PIKE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/ USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Two-time na­tional cham­pion fig­ure skater Gra­cie Gold has with­drawn from the up­com­ing na­tional cham­pi­onships in Detroit.

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