Starting with lofty execution on a combination of triple jumps, Gracie Gold of Springfield lived up to her burgeoning reputation by winning the junior women's short program at the U.S. Championships late Monday night in San Jose, Calif.
Gold, 16, was mistake-free to score 60.21 points, giving her a lead of 5.27 points over Hannah Miller of East Lasnsing, Mich., going into Wednesday's free skate.
Gold, who trains at two suburban Chicago rinks with coach Alex Ouriashev, received positive grades of execution from the judges on six of her seven elements and a neutral one on the other.
Her component scores, all in the 6's, were slightly higher than those at the Junior Grand Prix event last fall in Estonia, where her dazzling performance suddenly put Gold into the spotlight. Scores at national events tend to run higher than those at international competitions.
Featured in a Tribune story last month, which included stunning praise from judges and Olympic gold medalists Scott Hamilton and Tara Lipinski, Gold suddenly faced greater expectations. Monday, she handled them with aplomb.
"People have been talking the talk, so now it was my turn to walk the walk," she said after the short program. "I love putting out a great performance, especially at a big competition like nationals. I had so much fun."
This is Gold's first appearance at junior nationals. Undone by confidence issues, she failed to qualify last year. She began seeing a sports psychologist last March and has had regular sessions since last fall.
"I started seeing a sports psychologist because going into competitions, I was so nervous," she said. "I didn't consider myself one of the front-runners. I was sort of a mental and emotional mess."