Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Gracie Gold picks new coaches

Coaches Oleg Epstein (far left) and Marina Zoueva (far right) applaud U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White as they received the winning scores at the 2014 Olympics.  (Getty Images)

Coaches Oleg Epstein (far left) and Marina Zoueva (far right) applaud U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White as they received the winning scores at the 2014 Olympics.  (Getty Images)

Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Gracie Gold is moving from Los Angeles to Canton, Mich., to begin working with coaches Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein.

Gold and Frank Carroll, her coach the past four seasons, parted ways after her disappointing sixth place at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month.  

Gold, 21, skated poorly in all four of her competitions this season.  Her performance at nationals means she is not going to the World Championships for the first time in her five-year senior career.  She has a sixth, a fifth and two fourths at senior worlds.

"She needs her confidence back," Zoueva said in a brief conversation Wednesday morning before returning to the lesson she was giving.  "She's a gorgeous-looking girl.  Great skater.  Excellent jumps.  Her expression is wonderful.

"Over time, she lost confidence.  (This season) was difficult, for sure."

When she suddenly split from a previous coach in suburban Chicago, Alex Ouriashev, in September 2013, Gold spent a month training with Epstein and Zoueva before moving to join Carroll in Los Angeles.   She also had worked with Epstein at times over several years when he and Gold were both at Center Ice Arena in Glen Ellyn, Ill.   He moved to Michigan in the last Olympic season.

"I loved training in Canton," Gold said in a phone conversation Wednesday.  "It's a really positive atmosphere for me."

Gold said there will not be a sharply defined plan for who works with her on technique and who works with her on artistry.

"It will be a team effort between Oleg and Marina, and communication will be key," Gold said.  "As far as who has individual tasks, I don't think we're delegating.  I think it will just be a team effort.  That's why Canton thrives."

Zoueva and Epstein now are part of the 10-member coaching staff at the International Skating Academy, based at the Arctic Edge Ice Rink in Canton.  She began coaching in Michigan 15 years ago.

The coaches have been best known for working with ice dancers, including the last two Olympic champions, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.  Two-time U.S. champions and world medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani are the top active dance team in Canton.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada has been training in Canton since 2013.  New U.S. champion Nathan Chen frequently goes there to work on choreography and presentation with Zoueva, who choreographed Gold's 2014 Olympic free skate program.  Japan's Marin Honda, the reigning world junior champion, also has worked with Zoueva in Canton and intends to return later in February.

While Gold will be based in Canton, she may also work with another coach elsewhere.  Zoueva confirmed the current plan is to have her spend some time in Chicago with Ouriashev, with whom Gold trained for two weeks in late December and early January.  He is known as a jump specialist.

"We're just keeping my options open as far as traveling for working with other coaches," she said.  "There are a lot of different places."

In a longer phone conversation later Wednesday, Zoueva said the International Skating Academy team will meet after next week's Four Continents Championship in South Korea to discuss a coaching plan for Gold.  She expected "at least three coaches" to be regularly working with Gold.

"I am quite familiar with her from four years ago," Zoueva said.  "We have a very good relationship.  I love this girl.  I have absolutely amazing memory of how hard she worked.  You know, time and age change some things, but I am happy to have good memory."

Gold went back to Canton last week to get a feeling for working with Zoueva again.  The coach had seen her skate live at both her Grand Prix events, where she was a dismal fifth and eighth, and the national championships this season.

"I didn't see anything wrong (with her skating)," Zoueva said.  "I want to see her happy.  (She is) an American sweetheart, even her name is great.  Seriously."   

Gold finished fourth at both the 2014 OIympics and last year's World Championships.  She won the short program at worlds before a badly flawed free skate sent her into a psychological funk that lasted throughout this season.

Frank Carroll (far left) and Gracie Gold looked askance after the free skate at the 2017 U.S. Championships.  (Getty Images)

Frank Carroll (far left) and Gracie Gold looked askance after the free skate at the 2017 U.S. Championships.  (Getty Images)

"Being fourth in the world, first in the short program to me isn't the end of the world," Carroll told me at the U.S. Championships.  "But I think that basically it crushed her, and she felt it was the end of the world.  Then she could never get out of it, and it didn't matter what anybody said or did."

Gold insisted to me Wednesday, "There was nothing to work through" to get past the shocking failure to make the U.S. team for next month's World Championships.

"There was no immediate shock or any of the feelings you are implying I felt," Gold said.  "The outcome of nationals was my placement did not qualify me for the World Championships.  I knew after I skated I would not be going.  That was an acceptance.  I didn't qualify, so that was that, and I'm just looking forward to the next season.  I need to be stronger and better."

Gold, who is unlikely to compete again until a low-key summer event, was among several U.S. athletes to appear on the Today Show Wednesday to mark one year from the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  In a a brief interview before a performance on the Rockefeller Center rink, Gold did not mention the coaching change, nor was she asked about it by an ill-prepared Maria Shriver.

In a live session on NBC Olympics' Facebook page, Gold said, "As soon as I start feeling more like myself, I am getting back into my triple Axel mode."  She has yet to try that jump in competition.

Of her problems this season, Gold told the Facebook audience, "I was just kind of off my game, kind of like Tom Brady in the first quarter (of the Super Bowl.)...So I just want to be like the Patriots in overtime next year and just make an amazing comeback."

The way U.S. Figure Skating's Olympic selection rules are written, Gold will almost certainly have to finish in the top three at the 2018 U.S. Championships to make the team.  She also must hope the three U.S. women at this year's worlds - Karen Chen, Ashley Wagner and Mariah Bell - do well enough to earn three Olympic spots.  That requires having the finish places of the top two add up to 13 or fewer.

Gold's twin sister, Carly, who retired from competitive skating after making nationals for the first time in 2016 (and finishing 19th in the senior division), will remain in Los Angeles to continue her studies at Marymount California University.  

"I think (Gracie) is ready to fly solo," the twins' mother, Denise Gold, said in a text message.

Gold's split from Carroll, who coached her to both U.S. titles, was not unexpected but the way the coach made it public caught her by surprise.

The day after the free skate at last month's nationals, I asked Carroll in an exclusive interview about the future of their working relationship, and he told me it was going to end.  My story on broke that news and prompted Gold to react by saying, "I am surprised that Frank announced his decision before informing me.  I continue to have the utmost respect for Frank Carroll and his legacy. He took me on during a very vulnerable time, and I am forever grateful for our work together." 

To my question of whether he was sad or upset about the ending, Carroll replied, "When you spend a lot of time with somebody, and you give them all your energy, and you realize it is now going nowhere, then I think it is time for a change, definitely.  I've really tried for this kid.  Nothing is left unturned.

"I can't see being angry when you've spent a great deal of time in the cold together, and you've had great success. . .I think we did a pretty good job together."    

Carroll had told reporters immediately after the free skate that Gold had been in a "deep, deep, deep depression."

In a telephone conversation with me two weeks earlier, Gold had said, "I never felt I was in an actual depression and I needed a psychologist.  I was fine out of the rink. It was just in the rink and in skating I wasn't myself."