GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Gracie Gold is back. For how long is uncertain, but her performance at the national championships this week could bode well for the future.
Regardless, Gold has made huge strides in her return from mental illness that made her a most unlikely figure to get back on the ice for top-level competition.
As she concluded a good but not great free skate Friday night — at this point, she will take it — Gold was down on one knee looking up at the arena ceiling. The crowd was on its feet, and as she took her bows, Gold began to weep.
“Obviously, the audience reaction I felt was very powerful,” said Gold, a two-time U.S. champion (2014 and 2016) and Olympic team bronze medalist at the Sochi Games, where she was fourth in the women’s event. “It was a mix of things. A little relief to be really honest.
“I was excited, relieved, so overwhelmed almost, so existing in the moment.”
Such moments have been few and far between for Gold, 24. She seemed on the verge of superstardom in a sport where the women own the spotlight. But nothing went right since her second U.S. title.
She underwent treatment for anxiety and depression, she explained, and also had an eating disorder. At one point, she stopped doing any difficult jumps while appearing in Stars on Ice.
Her last nationals were in 2017. Gold was no factor for the 2018 Olympic team, and though she tried competition last season, it went nowhere.
“I was very out of shape,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my retirement; this is documented in photographic evidence. There’s no secret I was not in shape to be an athlete let alone a figure skater.”
That she didn’t totally give up is a credit to her perseverance. When she got back into serious training in Aston, Pennsylvania, slow steps were required. No grandiose plans. No thoughts of returning to the highest reaches of the sport.
Gold struggled through sectionals but qualified for nationals. That alone was worth, she said, a nine out of 10. But when she messed up her short program on Thursday to sink to 13th out of 18, it was “a three out of 10. OK, a four.”
That was Gold being too hard on herself. Simply making it onto this stage was a battle won.
Then came the free skate, which had a number of important mistakes. It also featured three triple jumps, some strong spins and a solid finish to an emotionally packed program.
And the standing ovation.
“I felt very emotional when the crowd stood up,” she said. “They kept standing long after what that performance warranted. The full arena pulling for my existence, like, on the ice. It was terrifying, but in like a familiar way.”
Will Gold become a familiar face on the skating circuit again? She took a while to respond.
“Even just participating the last month,” she said, “I bought in for the offseason and summer. Definitely another year, I think we earned that.
“America loves a comeback story.”