If all goes as planned for Gracie Gold, she’ll be one of three female Team USA skaters to compete at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The 22-year-old, however, who picked up a bronze medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, appears to have an uphill battle to get there.
Citing “recent struggles on and off the ice,” Gold said in a statement (via USA Today) on Friday that she will take some time off “to seek some professional help.”
Gold did not elaborate on what exactly her struggles have been “off the ice,” but recent performances have revealed some of her on-ice issues.
The two-time national champion has found herself uncharacteristically missing out on the podium at the U.S. Championships last year. She finished in sixth place, which was just the start of her season-long rut.
“I just never felt so disappointed in myself,” the Missouri native said about the performance (via the Kansas City Star).
Gold would go on to compete in two Grand Prix events, where she continued to be unable to execute jumps that used to look simple to the star. The 2016 Trophee de France proved a low point for the skater. She finished in eighth place — her worst Grand Prix result ever.
In her statement on Friday, Gold said her “passion for skating and training remains strong,” and that she had no intention of retiring.
She said the time she plans to take off as she prepares for her Grand Prix assignments in November “will help me become a stronger person, which I believe will be reflected in my skating performances as well.”
According to USA Today, Gold will now miss at least one scheduled event, the Japan Open on Oct. 7.
Gold, who has always been quick to give public emotional responses to her performances, came down particularly hard on herself last year as she struggled. She made her biggest headlines, however, when she addressed the topic of weight after her poor Skate America performance in October.
“You don’t often see — there aren’t that many — you just don’t see overweight figure skaters for a reason,” Gold said (via USA Today) just minutes after exiting the ice. “It’s just something I’ve struggled with this whole year and in previous seasons. It’s just difficult when you’re trying to do the difficult triple jumps. It’s something that I am addressing but it’s obviously not where it should be for this caliber of competition.”
Gold, of course, is not “overweight” by usual standards, which one reporter pointed out to her. Gold thanked the journalist, but added, “It’s a lean body sport and it’s just not what I have currently.”
Former U.S. figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski seconded Gold’s concerns, noting weight is something “every skater’s thinking about.”
“I think you don’t [see skaters] talk about it because in reality saying you need to lose weight when you’re already thin is a bit crazy,” Lipinski added (via NBC Sports), noting figure skating isn’t unlike gymnastics or ballet where “there is always this pressure to be very thin, not only for aesthetics, but just for your actual sport and how you use your body.”
If expectations are not properly managed, there can be dire consequences for skaters. Russian Olympic champion Yulia Lipnitskaya announced her retirement in a statement to the Russia’s TASS news agency earlier this week, citing a struggle with anorexia. The 19-year-old, who won gold at the 2014 Olympics when she was just 15, recently completed a three-month treatment program to address her eating disorder.
Former U.S. figure skater Jenny Kirk, who also suffered from the disorder, told the HuffPost in 2010 that she suspects up to 85 percent of top skaters suffer from “various forms of disordered eating.”
Kirk, a former world junior champion, puts part of the blame on coaches and fans, but most on the skating system itself, which updated its scoring agenda to reward technical moves, jumps and spins, that she said are “a lot harder … when one’s body is more womanly.”
“Until this system is tweaked, I don’t see a change in the number of injuries and the pressure for skaters to stay an unusually small size.”