Flatt ready to take center stage

After two U.S. silvers, teen hopes for gold in Spokane

Rachael Flatt will take the ice for "Ice Dreams" in Chicago on April 1.
Rachael Flatt will take the ice for "Ice Dreams" in Chicago on April 1. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/06/2010) - After two consecutive silver medals, Rachael Flatt is taking aim at the top of the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships podium in two weeks time in Spokane.

The 17-year-old is hard at work in Toronto, putting finishing touches to her programs with longtime choreographer Lori Nichol. She's training a triple flip-triple toe loop combination in both of her competitive programs. There are even thoughts of adding a second triple-triple combo, if the timing is right.

"Lori is excellent at freshening programs up," Flatt said. "There are no big changes [in choreography]; we're making sure all the details are nice and crisp, and all of the transitions work. I think the programs are coming along really well.

"Technically, I've been working on pretty much everything, especially making my jumps bigger, and getting better flow and better spin positions."

With a fourth-place finish at Cup of China and silver medal at Skate America -- including a win over world champion Yu-Na Kim in the free skate -- Flatt said she's comfortable with both her short to Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing" and free to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

"We actually changed the last spin in the long, to make it the same as one of my combination spins in the short, but with a flying entry," Flatt said.

"It's not a reverse-direction [spin] anymore, so I'm not in danger of losing a lot of points for a technical error [re-centering too far apart] like I did at Skate America. That's the only big change so far."

The wholesome Flatt is becoming something of a poster girl for U.S. Figure Skating, winning sponsorships from AT&T and M.A.C. Cosmetics and lending her talents to charities including Reading is Fundamental and USOC's Team for Tomorrow Fund.

"The weekend before Christmas, I flew to L.A. to do an AT& T commercial," Flatt said. "It was nice to get back to humidity for a couple of days."

The native Californian filmed some lines off camera and also performed a skating routine.

"The hardest part was looking into the camera, making sure my face didn't move away too much, except when I was spinning," she said.

"It was interesting. I've never done anything like it before. Even the idea of shooting a commercial was cool."

Flatt also rubbed shoulders with five-time world champion Michelle Kwan at the Women's Sports Foundation Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Dinner. When country artist Martina McBride -- a favorite of Flatt's -- came to Colorado Springs, the hardworking skater couldn't take time off for the concert, but McBride stopped by the World Arena to watch some practices.

"I couldn't believe how petite she is," Flatt said. "She's my height. We thought she would be much taller. Martina is the perfect size for skating."

It's all heady stuff for a teenager trying to make her first Olympic team, but Flatt seems to be taking it all in stride.

"This season is obviously very different from other seasons, but in a way, they're all unique," she said.

"Of course, the Olympics add pressure from all directions, but I'm trying to deal with it the best I can, by sticking to my training and not letting anything disrupt my schedule. Once I get to nationals, I can't control all of the stuff going on outside and around me. All I can do is put the work in now."

Flatt's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, sets a demanding pace for all of his skaters, including seniors Brandon Mroz, Ryan Bradley and Alexe Gilles, in addition to Rachael.

"We had Christmas day off, but we had to make that up the Sunday after," Flatt said. "Other than that, it's been normal training. I just stayed here throughout the holidays; nothing has changed much in the run-up to nationals.

"I'm keeping the triple flip-triple toe in my programs, and I'm also working on triple Lutz-triple loop, but that one's still fairly new and a little inconsistent. Things would get a little dry if we didn't try new elements from time to time."

With time off school for the U.S. Championships, and hopefully another few weeks in February for the Olympics, Flatt is also hitting the books, hoping to finish some of her final high school semester's class work ahead of time.

"All of my teachers [at Cheyenne Mountain High School] hope I don't miss too much time, but they gave me some work ahead of time, before I left for Toronto," she said. "I don't want to have too much to make up."

Then there's the issue of college applications. Flatt completed a dozen, to schools throughout the U.S., but remains undecided.

"I'm not worrying about it just yet," she said. "Where and when I go depends on where I get in, if I make the Olympic team, and how I do in Vancouver. One thing at a time."