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Zakrajsek leads all-star group of American skaters

Hard-working coach dreams of coaching at Olympics

Tom Zakrajsek (right) stands with new world junior champ Rachael Flatt at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Gdansk, Poland, in December 2007.
Tom Zakrajsek (right) stands with new world junior champ Rachael Flatt at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Gdansk, Poland, in December 2007. (Jo Ann Schneider Farris)

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By Jo Ann Schneider Farris, special to icenetwork.com
(03/10/2008) - Tom Zakrajsek is not only the coach of the 2008 world junior ladies champion, Rachael Flatt, but he has also taught many other figure skating champions and medalists. At the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, several of the medalists came from the Broadmoor Skating Club, and all of the skaters from that club who medaled in singles were coached by Zakrajsek.

Zakrajsek's stable of U.S. national medal winners in 2008 included:

• Rachael Flatt -- senior ladies silver medalist
Jeremy Abbott -- senior men's pewter medalist
Alexe Gilles -- junior ladies champion
Brandon Mroz -- junior men's silver medalist
• Marissa Secundy -- novice ladies champion
• Joshua Farris -- intermediate men's champion
• Lauren Dinh -- intermediate ladies bronze medalist

Zakrajsek first tried skating when he was seven years old. He admits he wasn't very good at the sport at first, but by age ten, he began to excel. He trained in Cleveland, Detroit and Cincinnati, before moving to Denver to train with Norma Sahlin, who had coached Charles Tickner, the 1978 world champion and 1980 Olympic bronze medalist. Zakrajsek competed at the U.S. championships five times in singles and one time in pairs. After his amateur career ended in 1988, he toured with Disney on Ice.

He began coaching in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1991. In his first year of coaching, he had skaters medal at regionals in many different levels and events. One of his first students was Ryan Bradley, whom Zakrajsek coached from the age of five. When Bradley was 12, his family followed Zakrajsek to Colorado Springs to train at the Colorado Springs World Arena, and in 2007, Bradley became the U.S. men's silver medalist, finishing ahead of Johnny Weir.

The Colorado Springs World Arena and the Broadmoor Skating Club provide a very supportive environment for Zakrajsek, because the arena provides lots of ice time for figure skaters. Also, funding for elite skaters is provided, in part, through the El Pomar Foundation, the rink's Board of Directors and the Broadmoor Skating Club itself. The club also offers Friday night exhibitions and critiques, which help get skaters ready to compete.

Zakrajsek favors a disciplined approach as he works with skaters. Summing up his coaching philosophy, he says, "The only limits a person has are self-imposed." He uses legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success" as a guideline for their training. He believes focused and hard-working figure skaters who believe in themselves can become champions.

The coach also believes that his athletes have a lot of fun when they work hard. He works closely with a skater's parents so that his skaters can have the best opportunity to succeed. He and his wife have two young children of their own, and he says that becoming a parent has helped him become a better coach.

Zakrajsek hopes to coach many more champions. He also dreams of taking skaters to the Olympics. He takes one day at a time, puts in long hours and works very hard. By continuing that work ethic and instilling it in his students, he has a good shot of landing in Vancouver in 2010.