Gracie Gold preps for pressure of first Olympics
FEB 08, 2014 4:43a ET
Frank Carroll is trying to brainwash Gracie Gold, and it might be working.
Carroll, the esteemed figure skating coach, wants to convince his latest star pupil that the Olympics are far easier than the U.S. Championships, which he calls "the No. 1 most horrific competition."
Gold dominated that event; here in Sochi, by his reasoning, there's no pressure of trying to make the Olympic team.
"She seems to be buying it," Carroll said with a chuckle. "You never know until the moment of truth."
The first moment will likely come Sunday, when Gold expects to skate her long program at the team event. The individual competition starts Feb. 19.
The title of top American female figure skater heading into an Olympics guarantees instant celebrity status before a single performance. The attention was sudden for the 18-year-old Gold, the runner-up at the 2013 U.S. Championships who had an unremarkable Grand Prix season.
There was the appearance on "The Tonight Show," when Jay Leno asked her to demonstrate her juggling skills (she uses it as a stress reliever). With her understated poise and wry humor, she selected three lemons from a basket of fruit and sent them twirling through the air.
Considering Leno hosted his last show just three weeks later, that's a pretty cool experience.
"I kind of snuck in in, like, the last 16 episodes," Gold said Friday. "That's one of the things that I couldn't do later in life."
She got to meet actors Mark Harmon and Kristin Chenoweth, her fellow guests that night. The surreal moments kept coming the last couple of weeks, though on a bit of a delay.
Gold did her final pre-Olympic training in Oberstdorf, Germany, in the Bavarian Alps, a chance to get on European time while, as she put it, "away from everything â literally, everything." Internet access was sporadic, so every few days she'd turn on her phone and see messages about some new fame. American ice dancing siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani brought her a copy of Sports Illustrated with Gold on the cover.
Doesn't hurt that she's got a perfect last name for Olympic puns. Gracie can laugh about that â after realizing she'd used the phrase "going for the gold" on Friday, she pantomimed a rim shot for good measure.
Carroll is cautiously optimistic that she can carry that calm confidence to the ice in Sochi, but he's been doing this long enough to know that's impossible to predict. The 74-year-old coach, who guided Evan Lysacek to the gold medal four years ago, took her on in September when he realized the injured Lysacek likely wouldn't be able to defend his title. Her jumps were already sharp; much of his task was on the mental side.
Candid enough at this stage of his career to point out that his job is essentially brainwashing athletes, Carroll was intrigued to get to know his new protege's personality.
"You feel like she's analyzing you while you're trying to analyze her," he said.
The 2018 Games may prove to be her moment, not Sochi. But if Gold can truly internalize Carroll's wisdom, that won't enter her mind.
"We're here. There's nothing to qualify for," she said. "It's just about leaving it all out on the table and going for the gold."