Olympian Gracie Gold Performs at Rockefeller Center

Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold performs at Rockefeller Center in New York on Jan. 14. Gold plans to leave for Sochi, Russia, on Saturday to begin her Olympics preparations. (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images / January 14, 2014)

With only a few days to go before she departs for Munich, the first stop on her journey to Sochi, Russia, and the Winter Olympics, figure skater Gracie Gold is still getting accustomed to the idea that she’s the U.S. champion and that she will contend for an individual medal — and possibly a medal in the new team event — next month.

“It’s just kind of surreal in a sense,” she said Wednesday during an interview at her training rink in El Segundo. “I’m just kind of on for the ride.”

Gold, 18, was a resounding winner at the national championships a few weeks ago, emphatically earning her first Olympic berth. She earned a personal-best score of 72.12 points for her short program, which she had changed after getting some middling reviews for her previous routine, and she’s happy with it now.

Unlike rival Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth at the U.S. competition and decided to create a new long program in hopes of getting better results in Sochi, Gold isn’t planning any additional alterations to her routines.

“No, I’m done changing. I’m good. I got it now,” Gold said. “Been there, done that.”

There’s no reason to change much of anything after a stunning performance that put her well ahead of runnerup Polina Edmunds of San Jose and third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia. Wagner was awarded the third Olympic berth over Nagasu because of her body of work.

Gold said she had to overcome a bit of adversity, in that she had to wait quite a while between warming up and performing her long program and because heat in Boston’s TD Garden created some watery spots and soft ice on the rink. She said she approached her performance like the runthroughs she routinely performs at practice.

“Happy I did the first three [elements]. Little loss of focus on the flip. Mad that I lost focus and I do the next jumps,” said Gold, who moved from Illinois to Southern California in September to train with coach Frank Carroll. “Just kind of went in, did my job, got out.”

Even she could find few things to criticize, except for an uncertain finish to a triple flip that forced her to fight to stay upright.

“Little nuances there, a little bit more feeling here, a little bit more on a step or spin, the triple flip, obviously,” she said when asked what she’d like to improve. “I didn’t fall but I could have had a better landing.”

Gold, her twin sister, Carly, and her mother, Denise, will begin their journey to Sochi on Saturday. She’s not sure of her itinerary after that, because it will depend on whether she is chosen to compete in the team event. Some skaters might train in Munich and some in Graz, Austria. She said her newest sponsor, United Airlines, has helped her mother, sister, and father, Carl, make last-minute travel arrangements. “Sochi is not the easiest place to get to,” she said.

One place she plans to be is with the U.S. delegation as it marches into the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7. Athletes sometimes skip the ceremony because it conflicts with training time or because it keeps them on their feet for hours when they should be resting, but Carroll told her she shouldn't miss it.

“His advice has actually mostly been to enjoy the Games and enjoy every experience,” she said. “He says he’s been to so many Olympics ... he doesn’t want to stand around for four hours but he thinks that I should, telling me it’s one of the most amazing things that you’ll remember.”

She could create another amazing memory by winning a medal. That will be tough. Among the favorites are veterans such as defending champion Kim Yuna of South Korea, 2010 silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan, and European championships bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy, as well as rising Russians Julia Lipnitskaia — the European champion — and Adelina Sotnikova.

“It will be hard, definitely, being in Russia, especially with a lot of the Russian ladies are coming back really, really strongly,” Gold said, adding praise for the consistency of Kim, Asada and Kostner.

“I think I definitely have a shot at being in the top. I don’t want to say a number or anything. It’s definitely going to be kind of do what I did at nationals but at the Olympics, so a little bigger, a little bolder, a little better.”

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