“The Inside Edge” is a column by Faith Bonds about figure skating.
“She is hard on herself. She is broken and won't ask for help. She is messy, but she's kind. She is lonely most of the time.”
These were the lyrics playing over Gracie Gold’s fourth-place freeskate last weekend at the 2020 South Atlantic Regional Championships. I don’t know about you, but hearing those words to Sara Bareillis’ “She Used to Be Mine” makes me think she isn’t in the position to skate competitively.
If the music choice wasn’t enough to signal a skater in distress, her performance provided the ultimate red flag. While a typical senior ladies competitor includes seven to eight triple jumps in her program, Gold only produced three, none of which received a positive grade of execution (GOE). She scored 84.18 points, good for fourth in the freeskate and third overall, as well as a berth to the Eastern Sectional Championships next month.
She was visibly winded halfway through the four-minute program, making it hard to believe she’d ever done an entire run-through during practice. The judges weren’t feeling her performance either, giving a presentation score of 47.18, her lowest ever at the senior level. It was all she could do to reach the conclusion of this depressing song, to arrive at her ending pose without collapsing.
I recognize this all sounds harsh. After all, less than two years ago a suicidal Gold checked in to inpatient treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. Her return to competition should call for celebration, not criticism.
The truth is, I grew up looking up to Gracie. As a fellow Illinois native, I watched her outshine the local competition year-after-year and rise through the ranks to Olympian status in 2014. She’s one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen, and I want nothing more than for her to succeed in all her endeavors, skating and otherwise.
But after all her treatment and healing, I believe she’s making her comeback in the wrong way. She’s surrounded by a team of coaches—namely former French competitor Vincent Restencourt—that doesn’t seem to have her best interests at heart. Since she moved in the spring of 2018 to train in Aston, Pa., the rink leadership has plastered her name everywhere to attract new talent, thrusting a delicate Gold into the spotlight clearly before she’s ready to make a strong return.
This manifested in several controversial decisions, including asking the fragile skater to perform in the club’s spring show and posting Instagram videos of her “progress” under Restencourt. Recently, the coach pushed videos of Gold landing each of her triples, as well as a quad on the harness. These appearances gave the skating community a false hope that Gold could be back to fighting shape in no time.
But the truth always comes out.
The truth reared its ugly head in November of last year, when Gold made her competitive debut in Russia after a 22-month hiatus. She showed up to the competition ill-prepared to perform under international spotlights, placing last in the short program with a career-low of 37.51 points. She withdrew from the freeskate and did not resurface to competition ice until this weekend.
Her tweets following the withdrawal announcement speak for themselves:
This comes from a skater who’d already mounted an illustrious career, including an Olympic team bronze medal and two national titles. She didn’t have anything to gain from competing at a Grand Prix event in Russia if she wasn’t ready to lay down her best effort. But like in her program at Regionals last week, she couldn’t conceal her lack of readiness.
It’s not Gold’s fault she only earned half of her personal-best score. She’s an Olympic athlete to the core, ultra-competitive and eager to show what she’s got.
But no one’s providing a voice of reason.
Typically coaches direct a skater’s path, slowly giving skaters more exposure at local events and shows, then building up to an international outing. However, Gold’s team of coaches is anything but typical.
The circus they’re running at IceWorks Skating Club serves to benefit the program and not the skater, who desperately needs guidance at this point in her career. It’s difficult enough navigating a comeback, especially after spending months overcoming mental health struggles related to the sport. It’s harder yet when the people surrounding you don’t give sound advice.
As Gold heads into the Eastern Sectional Championship next month, where she must place in the top four to qualify for Nationals, she’ll probably focus on incorporating more triple jumps into her program. In the likely event she doesn’t advance, I suggest she abandons the rink in Aston and looks for a well-established, strategic team to get her on the right track.
Essentially, the 24-year-old skater needs a coach who doesn’t need her. Restencourt uses Gold’s fame to display an acclaimed image of his coaching and his club, while taking attention away from her personal needs.
Gold shouldn’t appear on every marquee in town. She needs a coach with experience to guide her path, and with a body of work that’s impressive without Gold’s name on it.
As a long-time fan of Gold, I sincerely hope she’s successful on and off the ice. She’s fought hard to overcome depression and get back to her passion. Despite the messy coaching situation, I believe she can regain her spark if she surrounds herself with the right people and stays patient.
And if the past is any indicator, Gold won’t give up anytime soon.
“The Inside Edge” runs every Wednesday.