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Just add ice: Flatt and Hamill in Lake Placid

Saturday night ice shows continue in upstate New York hamlet

Dorothy Hamill (left) with Kendall Wyckoff (right) in Lake Placid.
Dorothy Hamill (left) with Kendall Wyckoff (right) in Lake Placid. (courtesy Kendall Wyckoff)

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By Kendall Wyckoff, special to icenetwork.com
(08/24/2009) - The Aug. 15 edition of the Lake Placid Olympic Center Saturday Night Ice Show was a star-studded affair, led by two-time U.S. silver medalist and 2009 worlds competitor Rachael Flatt. Guest stars, junior men's champion Ross Miner and Italian pairs team Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, took to the ice with 26 other talented skaters to give dazzling performances.

The crowd was in awe of the skaters, while more than a few skaters were in awe of the audience, which included skating luminaries Dorothy Hamill, John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana.

For her opening program, Flatt skated to "Sing, Sing, Sing," which received ecstatic applause. Her closing number was a heartfelt skate to Miley Cyrus's inspirational song "The Climb."

The next day, I met up with Flatt and her mentor for an informative chat.

Lake Placid is not a new destination for Flatt. She first visited this scenic Olympic village in December 2002, for the U.S. Junior Championships, and is now in her second year of starring in a Saturday Night Ice Show.

"It's always fun to come out," said Flatt. "It's such a wonderful little town with all these fun little quirks that I really enjoy!"

She loves everything, from the restaurants to staying at the Mirror Lake Inn, to "all the cute Adirondack memorabilia shops on Main Street."

Our talk then entered the realm of training.

"The training environment is wonderful," said Flatt, referring to the World Arena in Colorado Springs. "Everyone obviously pushes each other to be their best every day. It's nice to have such a great support system."

She recounted her average training schedule; Flatt skates four hours, six days a week and she runs both programs every day. She spends about 15-30 minutes warming up for each session. Twice a week she goes to ballet and stretch class, along with working out at the Olympic training center.

When I mentioned her coach Tom Zakrajsek, she immediately responded, "He's a tremendous technician -- a little bit of alliteration there." Besides Tom, Rachael has enjoyed working with Canadian choreographer, Lori Nichol and, on rare occasion, Frank Carroll.

I inquired about the qualities that make her such a successful skater. Flatt replied that she believes it's her love for the sport.

"Sometimes it is hard to get on the ice in the morning -- especially when it's freezing. It's just looking back and saying, 'I really loved this every day.'" She thrives on working hard. "It's incredibly satisfying to get off the ice completely exhausted. Then I know I've done my job."

When asked what inspired her, she answered: "Music absolutely inspires me. It's kind of indescribable. There's a different feeling you get from every piece of music. Also, the beach... well, it just makes me feel wonderful."

I asked Flatt if she plays any part in choosing her music. She told me that she sits down with Nichol and her mom to run through possible selections.

Academics are also a huge part of Flatt's life.

"Education does come first for me even though skating is incredibly important."

She is interested in top colleges including Dartmouth, Harvard, Tufts, Columbia, Northwestern, Brown, MIT, Princeton and her childhood dream school -- Stanford. There is no doubt that Rachael aims high and goes after what she wants. For college majors she is considering chemical engineering, biochemistry, anatomy and biomechanics.

"It's always been very interesting to me."

Flatt is a very worldly young lady. She relishes the many opportunities she has been granted through skating. Countries she has visited while representing the U.S. include: Canada, Mexico, Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, Japan, and Russia.

"My favorite country has been Italy, but I was not there for skating; it was for a school trip."

Besides being an outstanding student and a world-class athlete, Flatt is also an advocate for charitable causes. She is the spokesperson for RIF (Reading is Fundamental).

"It's a great non-profit organization that donates books to at-risk children. They do a wonderful job."

Last week, she gave her first public speech -- to the associates at Macy's -- before they opened their doors to the public.

"It was actually more nerve-wracking than skating at worlds."

About her mentor Hamill, Flatt says: "She definitely influences how much fun I have. She always makes me smile when I'm skating. She makes the daily grind so much more enjoyable. She is quite the amazing woman. She has had so many amazing experiences that I could only dream of."

When asked about her future Flatt was unsure, but excited for what's to come.

"Hopefully, I will have traveled the world even more, gained some incredible experiences and just enjoyed life."

It was wonderful talking to Flatt, but I was also eager to talk to the champion sitting beside her.

Hamill spent many of her training years in this very Olympic village. She moved to Lake Placid in 1965 because it was the only place available to train in the summer. With a sparkle of excitement in her eye she added, "It's where all the coaches came from all over the country -- different countries actually!"

"One of the big-time coaches here was Gus Lussi, and he's the voice I still hear whenever I go into a spin or jump. He was such a part of history here and he really helped make it what it is today!"

Over the years, she has returned many times, as both an amateur and a professional.

"It's such a magical place. It's so great to come full circle and be here with Rachael and see all the up-and-coming stars."

But her favorite part of being in Lake Placid is the calmness she feels when she looks out over Mirror Lake.

"It's just home in my heart."