I remember a couple of years ago, I was watching my role models in the Olympics, and now to be that role model, it's so wonderful. You just remember why you do what you do. The passion in your sport is so important. —Gracie Gold
The big names in women's figure skating at the Sochi Olympics are Yuna Kim and Mao Asada. The best name might belong to the American champion, Gracie Gold.
It certainly will be the most memorable if she can match her moniker by standing atop the podium in a few weeks.
Gold won her first national championship in January in Boston with two superb programs. Working with Frank Carroll, who coached Evan Lysacek to the men's title four years ago, Gold has improved exponentially this season.
She will need to continue that rapid growth at the games, because defending champion Kim and silver medalist Asada are imposing opponents.
"There are so many different variables, and the women's field is so good this year," the 18-year-old Gold said. "Yuna Kim and Asada and then all the new kids on the block.
"I think the U.S. definitely has a strong team for the team event, definitely a chance to medal, if not win. I definitely think in singles I have a chance to medal; so do a lot of people. Who is going to leave everything out on the ice? The Olympics is about, 'This is what I have, go ahead and beat it.'"
Gold gave everything she had at the national championships in edging 15-year-old Polina Edmunds and 2010 Olympic fourth-place finisher Mirai Nagasu. But Nagasu was left off the team for the top American skater, Ashley Wagner, who struggled in Boston but was given a spot because of her strong international record.
While Wagner reboots, Gold has taken over the spotlight. Unlike the days of Tonya and Nancy and its aftermath, when figure skating was front and center even in non-Olympic years, the sport rarely leaps into the limelight now. But with the Sochi Games about to kick off, people are paying attention to the lutz-and-loop crowd.
In the United States, that usually means focusing on the top woman. Although Wagner could wind up being that skater — Lysacek didn't win the U.S. championships in 2010 before taking the Vancouver title — Gold is in the forefront heading toward Thursday's start of the team event.
"Going to nationals, I was not going to just participate, but to compete, going for the top spot, going for gold," she said. "I dedicated myself to that moment and I was able to hit it pretty well, and I am more than happy with that.
"I think the year is 2014 and it's a new Gracie. With Frank every day after I am done jumping, we just take time to appreciate the nuances and the music and connecting with the audience and judges and have that warmth with my skating, the things that light up the rink."
Gold has leaped onto the scene the past two years. She and Wagner finished high enough at the 2013 world championships to ensure the American women would have the maximum three spots in the Sochi field. She didn't do much in the Grand Prix series, but came on spectacularly at nationals.
Now, it's on to the Olympics.
"I remember a couple of years ago, I was watching my role models in the Olympics," Gold said. "And now to be that role model, it's so wonderful. You just remember why you do what you do. The passion in your sport is so important."