Gracie Gold’s captivating journey in the sport of figure skating, at times exhilarating, at other times troubling, took yet another turn Wednesday evening when the 23-year-old two-time national champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist withdrew from the upcoming national championships in Detroit.
Gold said on Instagram that this isn’t the end for her, that she’s already working hard to “get a jump start” on next season, with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing being her ultimate goal.
But after undergoing treatment for what she said was depression, anxiety and an eating disorder in 2017 and missing the 2018 Olympic season, then having a very difficult time when she returned to competition two months ago, Gold’s path forward is anything but certain.
Although it is only natural to frame the conversation about Gold in athletic terms, there should be only one concern for her now, and that should be for her personal well-being.
Her November 2018 attempt to return to the sport for the first time since the U.S. nationals in January 2017 was alarming to all who watched. Still not in competitive shape, she nonetheless went to Russia to compete in a Grand Prix event against nine other international skaters, including 2018 Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova.
Gold clearly wasn’t ready, finishing 10th in the short program, unable to land any of the triple jumps that once came so effortlessly to her. She withdrew before the long program. But what came next, on Twitter, was even more troublesome.
“I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Gold wrote, “but skating my short program last night might have topped it. … The only place to go from here is up. … I’m heartbroken to withdraw from tonight’s free skate. It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture. Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. … I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months and I feel that competing the free skate would be damaging to both my confidence and mental health going into Nationals.”
More: Read more commentary from columnist Christine Brennan
Of course, now she’s not going to nationals at all. But there’s a bigger issue here. As the Grand Prix event approached, it would have been clear to any number of officials and coaches within the U.S. Figure Skating community that Gold was not ready to compete. While she certainly is allowed to call the shots for her own career, part of any top skater’s preparation for an important competition is to be monitored by USFS judges and/or officials.
Why someone didn’t speak out and suggest that Gold was not yet ready to compete is unknown. Numerous phone calls and emails trying to get an answer to that question went unreturned.
Perhaps someone – even Gold herself – thought she absolutely had to get back into a top-notch skating competition and see how it felt.
But, based on what she then wrote on Twitter, was it worth it? How could it have been?
With her scintillating talent, her perfect last name and her movie star looks, Gold appeared to have it all. She nearly won an individual medal in the 2014 Olympic women’s event, finishing fourth, and did win the bronze with her U.S. teammates in the inaugural Olympic team competition. She was just 18. The 2018 Winter Games beckoned. So did 2022, even though it’s the rare skater who gets the chance to go to more than one Olympic Games.
But then Gold found herself on a precipitous and alarming slide, starting at the 2016 world championships in Boston, when, in first place after the short program, she fell to fourth overall. All of a sudden, the simplest jumps became difficult. After a disappointing fifth-place finish that October at Skate America, the U.S. Grand Prix event, she spoke boldly about the pressure she felt.
“You don’t often see – there aren’t that many – you just don’t see overweight figure skaters for a reason,” she said. “It’s just something I’ve struggled with this whole year and in previous seasons. It’s just difficult when you’re trying to do the difficult triple jumps. It’s something that I am addressing but it’s obviously not where it should be for this caliber of competition.”
Within three months, Gold would finish a disheartening sixth at the national championships, then disappear from the sport for nearly two years while focusing on herself and her treatment.
She came back briefly in November for the event in Russia, and now she is gone again. She says she’s going to keep trying, and with all that she has been through, that in and of itself is admirable, come what may.