The American ladies finished off the podium again at the 2015 World Championships, keeping alive a streak that I’m sure U.S. Figure Skating would much rather see end. The last American woman to finish on the podium was Kimmie Meissner, who won gold in 2006.
Both Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner staged herculean comebacks in the long program, finishing second and third, respectively in that segment of the competition. They were fourth and fifth place overall, quite the jump from 8th and 11th after the short. When you think about how different the results might have been if both girls had skated clean (or even with just fewer mistakes) in the short program, it’s a hard one to take. Obviously even more so for the skaters’ themselves. The fabulous potential is there, but it seems like they crumble under expectations.
Not only did both athletes skate impressively in the long, but they gave performances that required great mental toughness—something both skaters have demonstrated throughout this season. Gold skated a nearly clean program at U.S. Nationals right after the crowd blew the roof off for Wagner’s record score. Wagner was in last place after the short program at the Grand Prix Final and pulled herself up to win the bronze medal. When people write them off, the American ladies come out fighting to prove them wrong. Both skaters thrive in the underdog position, rising to the occasion when they have to chase the leader.
But it is another story when they are expected to place well or win the competition. Gold was supposed to walk away with the Four Continents title in February and ended up fourth. Wagner was predicted to breeze her way onto the Olympic team in 2014, then finished fourth and had to be named to the team by U.S. Figure Skating.
It is extraordinarily difficult to live up to the pressure of expectations and Gold and Wagner are by no means lost causes. But how hard is it to change the mentality and thrive as the favorite?
It’s something Michelle Kwan learned throughout her career. After faltering in her first national title defense in 1997, she changed her mental approach and was able to own the U.S. ladies’ title from 1998-2005. Plenty of former champions serve as mentors to current competitors through U.S. Figure Skating—maybe they can add Kwan to the list to help elevate these ladies to the next level.