SOCHI, Russia – Gracie Gold will again undertake an unusual but familiar ritual as she prepares for the biggest skate of her life at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Thursday night.
The American figure skating star goes into the decisive long program of the Olympic ladies competition in fourth place, knowing that a flawless performance could elevate her into medal contention. Gold admitted to extreme nerves during her short program on Wednesday but said the tension would have been even worse if not for her pre-event ritual of juggling hacky sacks.
"It was a long wait," said Gold, who skated 22nd among the 30 competitors for the short program. For the free skate, she will be in the same spot out of the 24 remaining skaters, followed by teammate Ashley Wagner and defending Olympic champion and leader Yuna Kim of South Korea.
[Photos: Gracie Gold and her twin sister, Carly]
"I juggled and I did my regular warm-up," she added. "I was able to meet my mom by the athlete stands. The time is long and tedious so you need to find something to do."
Juggling became part of Gold's routine a couple of years back when other athletes at her skating club began to compete to see how long they could keep a set of hacky sacks in the air. It became a constant and comforting part of her preparation, all the way through the international season, to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston and now the Sochi Games.
"It is my party trick, a relaxing, calming kind of party trick," Gold told Yahoo Sports during last month's U.S. Nationals. "When we started doing it, there were a lot of us at the rink who could juggle and we would compete at it. I am quite competitive so I started doing it a lot.
"It helps you focus and concentrate and get your eyes moving and your hand-eye coordination going. It just feels good and for sure it helps."
Gold trails third-place Carolina Kostner of Italy by 5.49 points, second-place Adelina Sotnikova of Russia by 6.01 points and first-place Kim by 6.29 points. She will likely need to skate a clean performance and hope for a slip-up from one of the leading trio to fight her way onto the podium. Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia and Wagner occupy the places behind her in fifth and sixth, respectively.
[Related: Ashley Wagner hints at big surprise]
The 18-year-old Gold believes that after surviving some nervous moments and staying on her feet during the short program, things are shifting towards her favor.
"I am all about momentum," Gold said. "When you have seven jumps in the long program it is a lot easier to get momentum than it is with three in the short.
"To be able to come out here and feel stiff and white as a ghost but get out there and shoot the fear in the face is what I'm all about now.
"Let's just get it going – it is an athletic event. Once I get the ball rolling in that long program I will feel a lot better. I just wanted to skate like I should to be in the podium."
Gold will attempt to replicate her Wednesday schedule as closely as possible throughout Thursday. "If I find something that works for me, I stick with it," she said.
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