Gracie Gold skates during the free program at the World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday. / Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
LONDON, Ontario â?? Gracie Gold didn't leave her first World Figure Skating Championships with a medal. Nor was she the United States' top finisher. But when she checked in for her flight home to Chicago, heavy expectations were packed in her suitcase.
The morning after Gold impressed the judges and a savvy figure skating audience, a former Canadian champion discussed the previous night's proceedings. Gold finished sixth, one spot behind two-time national champ Ashley Wagner.
As the sport's spotlight has dimmed to a near blackout in the U.S., Toller Cranston pointed to Gold as the next American star. Cranston, who won a record six Canadian championships and the bronze at the 1976 Olympics, is now known for his colorful oil paintings and silk scarf designs. He knows flair when he sees it. Cranston said Gold has both the looks and the goods.
Others agree. Jerry Solomon, the president of StarGames, a sports marketing and entertainment company, first heard about Gold when his kids, who are gymnastics fans, watched a televised gymnastics and figure skating special in January. As soon as Gold took the ice, he knew.
"She has all the makings of a tremendous star, which America hasn't seen in a long time," he said Sunday.
Solomon, who's married to two-time Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan, had never heard of Gold before that moment, nor has he met her. He's proposing a post-Olympic figure skating tour that would feature the USA's most successful skaters, such as ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won their second world title, and international stars such as South Korea's Kim Yu-na, who won another world title Saturday.
Of course, Gold (and everybody else for that matter) has to qualify for the Olympic team first. The success of a tour shouldn't solely depend on Gold, but "to some degree it does," Solomon said.
Which is all heady stuff for a 17-year-old who just completed her first international senior season. After worlds, the compliments poured in via Twitter. Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic champion, congratulated both Americans afterwards and then added: "@GraceEGold I was 6th at my first Worlds too :)"
With a combined placements of 13 or better for the first time since 2007, Wagner and Gold earned three spots for the U.S. women at next year's Sochi Olympics.
Once upon a time, the U.S. women owned the podium at the Olympics and the world championships. From 1956 to 2002, they won seven Olympic titles and 10 other medals at the Games. However, an American woman hasn't won a world or Olympic medal since 2006.
"The American ladies had so many years of dominance," said Wagner's coach, John Nicks, who has seen it all in his seven decades in the sport. "We're starting to get back to the good ol' days."
Even so, the otherworldly Kim will be the overwhelming favorite to win Olympic gold in Sochi. The rest of the field will be vying for silver and bronze.
Though Gold's jumping ability is on par with the world's best, she still needs to improve her artistry to be a medal contender. She hopes to push the envelope next season, possibly adding more difficult jumps.
Gold had been doing a triple flip-half-loop-triple salchow combination, but the points weren't worth the risk. She may resume practicing that combo and also might work on a triple axel, the toughest jump for a female skater and a signature jump for Japan's Mao Asada, who won the world bronze.
When Gold went through airport customs, she also left with plenty of teenage awe (plus a Toller Cranston silk scarf, coincidentally.)
All week, Gold had hoped to take a picture with Kim, her idol. Before Saturday night's competition, she had her chance. Kim was sitting at a nearby table at lunch. "I chickened out," Gold said.
She hoped for another chance at the closing banquet on Sunday. When a journalist suggested, with a wink, that Gold could get that photo if she finished on the podium with Kim, Gold didn't miss a beat.
She returned the wink and added, "I see what you did there." Then Gold smiled, not quite ready to carry those weighty expectations just yet.
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