Whenever someone asks me who my favourite skater is, I usually start off by saying Gracie Gold and then I’ll say, ‘and I also love Alexandra Trusova because #quads’ and then I’ll go into a speech about why Russian skaters are so fascinating to watch at the moment. However, I never really explain why I value Gold and her skating so much. With U.S. Nationals starting in a few weeks’ time and a new year/new decade upon us I think it’s about time I gave a new speech about what Gracie Gold’s comeback story means for adult skaters and why you should never give up on what you love.
Gracie Gold earned a spot to Nationals this year. This is not news, anyone following her career found this out in November, but it was news I, no matter how much I wanted her to make it there, was not expecting. When she placed third at Regionals, I feared it would not be possible for her to climb up the rankings at Sectionals against a new wave of young skaters. Yet she proved me and many others wrong and for that she must be commended.
Prior to 2016/2017, Gold’s ascent to the upper echelons of the figure skating world was seemingly uncomplicated. She was a talented junior who won a silver medal in her first senior Nationals, gold the following year. She made it to the Olympics; she had the most apt name for a figure skater; she was in first place after the short program at Worlds in 2016 and then… well, you know what happened next. To be honest, I’m not massively interested in Gold’s medals or big skating successes, although she achieved wonderful things of which she should be proud and I will always enjoy watching her old programs. However, I don’t think this is all she should or deserves to be remembered for. I’m not going to discuss her openness with her mental health because that, although important, is a different conversation and I want to focus on what she is doing now in skating.
I’m not sure what it must have felt like for Gold to claw her way back to Nationals this year by qualifying through Regionals and Sectionals, something she has not had to do since 2011/2012. She’s Gracie Gold – why on earth should she need to prove to anyone that she can compete at Nationals? Yet she qualified very humbly and graciously and is clearly proud of herself for doing so. After earning a bye to Nationals the previous year, but withdrawing, this is effectively her second attempt at a comeback and it seems to be going better than her first attempt where she withdrew after a messy short program at Rostelecom in 2018. Yet even that messy short program deserves praise: there are many reasons why Gold should not have gone to this competition, but she tried. After not competing in over a year, she went to a massive competition where she had to compete in front of thousands of people and against the Olympic Champion who maybe once upon a time she could have beaten. An absurd idea, many would say – why would anyone let her do that? – but a very brave idea. Gracie Gold could have retired already, but this was her way of showing that she wasn’t giving up on skating just yet.
So although many criticise that performance at Rostelecom, what’s more important is that she was there. There are criticisms of her performance at Regionals, but compare the two and you will see a massive difference; you will see more fight and determination and a triple lutz. Then compare this short program to her one from Sectionals: a clean program that is not perfect and that is OK because you can feel the smile when she lands her last jumping pass successfully and you can see a girl who is proud of herself for what she has just achieved and grateful for the support from those at this small competition. She is proving those who said she could not come back entirely wrong and showing that a lot of hard work pays off. There is growth between her free skates as well, particularly in the performance. Neither performance from Regionals or Sectionals were the performances she would have wanted, but she got through them and sometimes that is all you need to do. She’s made it through all her performances since starting her comeback journey which, yes, of course you kind of have to do because you’re competing, but it takes a lot of mental strength to keep skating and finish a program when it isn’t going your way, be it in competition or an everyday practice. So keep going.
Listen to the lyrics of her free skate music, She Used to Be Mine, from Sara Bareilles’ musical Waitress. Some disagree with this music choice, arguing that it’s a distressed cry for help, but I think you need to listen more closely. It is about looking for your former self again and fighting to get her back. This is exactly what Gold is doing. The song is not an accidental choice because it’s good to skate to – she herself has said she has a flare for the dramatic. There is agency in the song’s lyrics and Gold has agency over what happens next for her skating. Just like you do.
I once heard Gold say that ‘you can always go back to average’ and it’s true because work, life and everything else will always be there waiting for you. She could have walked away from skating because that’s what the world was seemingly telling her to do. If someone is telling you (or even if you’re telling yourself) that it’s too late to skate or there’s no point or that this is something you can try when you retire or that it’s a waste of time, it’s wrong. Go and do what you want to do now, don’t wait around for a better moment to come along. Being average will always be there when you want to go back to it so just throw yourself into skating (or anything else) and try your hardest and fight for everything as hard as you can.
This is why I think Gracie Gold and her comeback story is an inspiration to adult figure skaters around the world. Yes, she obviously started skating and was a fantastic athlete before adulthood and did not put on a pair of skates for the first time at twenty-one like many of us, but pause and think about what she is doing currently. She is not skating now to be the best skater in the World or even in the United States. She is skating for herself and I think that’s the most important person you should skate for so please skate for you and don’t worry about anyone else. Gold knows that there are young girls who are likely to beat her at Nationals: she trains with teenagers like most adult skaters do and that’s not the worst thing in the world because teenagers are actually super nice and kind and supportive of adult skaters so there’s no need to be intimated by them. She is not focussed on results, but instead on the progress she is making and I don’t think anyone can deny that she has made progress. Progress, however small, is what is important. Perhaps you want to improve your basic skating skills as opposed to learning an axel this year and that’s a good a goal as any and so valid. Maybe Gold won’t ever be as good as she once was, maybe she’ll be better. You never know, at least she’s trying and that is all anyone can ever ask. You might end up with an enviable spin that you never thought you’d be able to do. Gold could have given up (and I mean that in the worst possible way of giving up), but she dragged herself out of the remnants of her life to build a new one. So don’t listen to anyone when they say you can’t do something or you shouldn’t be doing something because you can and you should. Don’t give up because the world is dark and you’re scared, just try because you never know what will happen. Gracie Gold is proof of these things, that hard work and determination pays off and we should applaud her for it. Because if Gracie Gold can crawl out of her rock bottom performance at Rostelecom (and I say rock bottom because it was the lowest short program score of her career prior to competing at a novice level), then you can come back from a bad day of skating or just a bad day in general and I promise you, you will absolutely be able to do that *insert element that’s currently the bane of your life here* camel spin.