By Sarah S. Brannen
Christina Gao had a breakout season in 2012-2013. In her second international season as a senior, Gao started off with a silver medal at Skate America and a fourth-place finish at the Trophée Bompard in Paris. She competed at the Grand Prix Final, finishing fifth. At the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Gao finished fifth for the fourth time in a row, but two weeks later she came in fourth at the Four Continents championships, the highest finish of the U.S. ladies at the event.

The Harvard freshman appears to thrive on the challenging combination of college and skating. Gao started training with Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson at The Skating Club of Boston last fall, and she says the new situation works for her.

“I started college, and I think everything just fell into place,” Gao said. “I had a good schedule and I got into a really good rhythm. I would come in, skate, work hard with Mark and Peter, and then I’d go to class, and I’d come back for off-ice, and that was it. I became almost like a robot! It was go, go, go every day. I think getting into that rhythm made a big difference.”

Before moving to Boston, Gao worked with Brian Orser in Toronto for several years and Stephanie Miller and Ted Masdea in Kentucky before that. She says training with Mitchell and Johansson is quite different for her.

“They run programs, and they push you really hard,” she said. “Sometimes when the training gets hard it’s very easy to slack off, and become not motivated and kind of down on yourself, but you know that in the end it’s definitely going to pay off. The people here work super, super hard, and I think it shows.”

Gao was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and started skating at the age of seven. At the age of 18 (she’ll turn 19 on March 7), she has grown into a willowy, elegant skater with a consistent triple toe-triple toe combination. Her fellow competitors praise her delicate presence on the ice. Asked who her favorite skaters are, Gao names Michelle Kwan and Yuna Kim, but she plans to follow in the footsteps of Tenley Albright and Debi Thomas and become a doctor.

After growing up in the suburbs, Gao is enjoying life in Cambridge and Boston.

“I love the city life, I love the city,” she said with enthusiasm. “I don’t have a car here and I can get anywhere by myself, and it’s super-easy. I love it. It’s so busy all the time, and so lively. I like that. For New Year’s Eve I went to the Frog Pond on Boston Common, which is beautiful, and it was awesome to skate there.”

Gao7aLooking ahead to the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Gao, like the other Boston-area skaters, is excited to compete in a “home” event.

“All my school friends can come watch!” she said. “They’re already super-excited about that.”

Gao says she doesn’t want to look ahead to the possibility of making the Olympic team – not yet, anyway. At the Grand Prix Final, however, she had the chance to compete in the Olympic venue in Sochi.

“Being in the Olympic arena, the Iceberg, was amazing!” she said. “They didn’t have much done around the arena, the Olympic village, we didn’t really get to see much of that. But being in Sochi was nice. I don’t really like to think too much ahead about anything. I wasn’t expecting anything this fall, and it was a pretty amazing season. I’ve been taking it one step at a time, one day at a time.”

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