Brennan: Gracie Gold already dreaming of another Olympic medal

SOCHI, Russia — Midnight was about to strike in Sochi when Gracie Gold became an individual figure skater once again. She and her seven U.S. teammates had won their Olympic bronze medals in the inaugural team event, and while they still had a Monday medal ceremony to attend, when they stepped off the dias at a late-night Sunday news conference they were, for all intents and purposes, becoming their old, singular selves once again.

Gold, the 18-year-old reigning U.S. women's national champion, was leaving the team event not as a changed skater — the team competition wasn't that long — but certainly as a more confident and comfortable one.

Given the task of skating one of three long programs for the United States on the final night of the team competition — hitting clean-up, so to speak — she nailed one of the most technically demanding programs in her sport, setting herself up for at least a chance for a medal, another medal, actually, in the women's competition next week.

She's in a loaded field, with reigning gold medalist Yuna Kim and defending silver medalist Mao Asada, along with 15-year-old Russian sensation Julia Lipnitskaia, former world champion Carolina Kostner and her American teammate Ashley Wagner, among others. Gold could skate extremely well and still not win a medal. The same goes for Wagner. The two did quite well at last year's world championships and finished fifth and sixth, Wagner, then Gold.

But skating is a slippery sport, and if a couple of the bigger names falter, and Gold takes advantage, she might well look back on what happened Sunday as one of the reasons why.

You could say that Gold has been waiting for this moment since she announced herself to a skating nation at last year's U.S. nationals in Omaha, finishing second to Wagner but stealing the show. Sunday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace, she introduced herself to the skating world when she received the highest international long program score of her career, 129.38 points, to finish second in that portion of the team event to Lipnitskaia and clinch the bronze medal for the United States.

"I would say that's everybody's dream," Gold said afterward. "I was doing the program I was trained to do, and I'm thinking, 'I'm looking at the Olympic rings and Sochi.' It has been the best year of my life, hands down."

Gold took the ice with certainty and poise in her six-minute warmup, and nothing changed when she skated for real. She landed seven clean triples, was as polished and lyrical as she's ever been, and finished with the satisfied look of an athlete who expected a performance just that solid, and delivered it.