Gracie Gold Embraces a Rugged Comeback Path

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The New York Times Sports department is revisiting the subjects of some compelling articles from the last year or so. Here is our January report on Gracie Gold’s mental health battle.

Gracie Gold is still on the ice, steadily building a comeback in figure skating one small victory at a time.

At 24, she has replaced the sweeping ambitions that made her an Olympian in 2014 and, for a while, one of the favorites to win gold in 2018. Now she is taking what she considers a healthier approach.

Gold’s career was sidetracked by mental illness that reached its nadir in 2017, when she had to abandon her bid for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and enter an inpatient therapy clinic in Arizona to address an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.

“The more expected thing to do would be to not compete again,” Gold said.

To keep going, Gold knew she would have to start virtually from scratch this year, re-establishing her eligibility for elite competition by going through lower-rung qualifying events for the first time since 2011. Gold was like an acclaimed actor auditioning for minor roles she thought she had outgrown.

“I was worried what people were going to say or think,” said Gold, who added, “I don’t want to say there were double takes, but there were eyes on me, for sure.”

She advanced to the final qualifying round, the Eastern sectionals in Hyannis, Mass., needing a fourth-place finish to secure her spot at the 2020 nationals. Overcoming a case of nerves, she finished third.

When she talked with The Times a year ago, Gold was still coming to terms with what she called the “neurotic perfectionism” that had powered her ascent but also precipitated her decline. She held herself to exacting standards, and the more she struggled to meet them, the worse she felt about herself.

Gold’s challenge moving forward is to remain rooted in the process and not fixate on the results.

“I feel like in the sport of skating, comebacks don’t happen that much because to go through the process and some of the ridicule that comes with it at first is hard,” she said. “You’re essentially being criticized by the judges, by the fans, by your coach and by yourself. That can be a lot.”

Gold still has bad days, but they are rarer. “And my ability to bounce back from one is faster,” she said.