Flatt and Nichol hope to create Olympic moments

Teen turns to Big Band Era and Rachmaninoff for inspiration

Olympic hopeful Rachael Flatt continues to skate well, taking first at the Golden West Champs.
Olympic hopeful Rachael Flatt continues to skate well, taking first at the Golden West Champs. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(06/28/2009) - Lori Nichol saw something different in Rachael Flatt's skating last week.

"The music is really driving her," said the Toronto-based choreographer, who has worked with the teen (and several of her top U.S. rivals) for years.

"She's like a firecracker out there."

Maybe it's the adrenaline. Since placing fifth at her first senior worlds in late March, it's been a mixture of schoolwork, training and vacation for the two-time U.S. silver medalist, who turns 17 on July 21st.

"We did my new short at the end of May, right after school got out about a month ago," Flatt said. "Between getting choreography, going on vacation and Champs Camp [June 11-14, in her training town of Colorado Springs] it's been fairly busy.

"I think I'll be home for the rest of the summer except for one week in Steamboat [Colorado] for high-altitude training. There will be a lot of beneficial time to refine and add details to my programs."

Flatt is thrilled with how the two efforts, a short program to Louis Prima's Big Band anthem "Sing, Sing, Sing" and free skate to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," are shaping up.

"I'm doing my long with Lori this week. It's going really well," she said. "We're just starting to figure everything out.

"I think [the programs] show two totally different sides of my personality. One is the romantic and very strong part of my personality, and the other is bubbly and happy and lots of fun. It's a good contrast."

Flatt and her parents, Jody and Jim, spent their 10-day vacation in Hawaii and California, where Jim ran in the Rock 'n Roll Marathon held June 6th in San Diego.

"He was tired and sore for a couple of days but he enjoyed it," Rachael said.

With skaters including world junior silver medalist Caroline Zhang, reigning U.S. champion Alissa Czisny, 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu and the returning Sasha Cohen, who won silver at the 2006 Olympics, all fighting for two ladies spots at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Jim's daughter faces a marathon of her own just to qualify for the U.S. team.

"It's going to be a tough year but exciting," said Flatt, who added she welcomes the chance to compete against Cohen at Skate America in Lake Placid this fall. "Everyone is working as hard as I am, I'm sure. I say, bring it on. Let's go out there and do our best."

Here's what Flatt and Nichol have to say about the skater's new programs. You selected a very upbeat piece for your short this season.
Rachael Flatt: We had been looking around for a peppier piece of music, to kind of show off the bubbly side of my personality when it comes to skating. It's very different [than last season's short]. It's a lot of fun to perform and it's a program I know I'm going to enjoy both training and competing.

Lori Nichol: In January and February, I go to Lenore Kay, an incredible music editor, with my top ten list of memorable pieces, and "Sing, Sing, Sing" had Rachael's name next to it. Everyone loved the version Lenore came up with; it's so exciting to perform. It's hard to move that quick but Rachael's making progress and having a blast. How did you choose the Rachmaninoff?
RF: We all thought about it -- me, my mom, my coach Tom [Zakrajsek] and Lori. We all thought it was a good idea, but we looked for other choices just to keep our options open. Finally we just realized it was a great choice. I've always loved it. It's one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. It's very heartfelt, very emotional, which is great for the Olympics; so many people can relate to it. It can help me show a lot of different aspects of my skating.

LN: She liked the music for a very long time and we kept coming back to it. The look on her face when she's out there skating to it tells you everything. You want quality music for the Olympics; if an athlete feels fantastic about it, it motivates her to push harder and skate faster. A lot of skaters have used this music.
RF: Well as of right now the choreography, as well as the music editing, is very different from what a lot of people would expect. It's very modern; the editor made it so Variation XVIII is incredible and a real highlight. Rachael, one of the areas you've said you want to improve is your speed. Do these two pieces help?
RF: I think the construction of the programs, as well as the music, will definitely help keep me skating very fast to keep up with the choreography. Both programs are going incredibly well already but it's going to take a lot of training to ingrain the speed aspect into my programs. I want them to be very exciting and dynamic. I hope they show the improvements I've made this year. They will both take a lot of work as I'm sure everyone's programs will this year leading into the Olympics.

LN: She has improved a great deal and we can only hope she continues to work the same way when all of the elements are in [the free program]. Rachael tends to be a bit like Michelle Kwan in her day; she tends to slow down under when she's under [competition] pressure. It's a matter of confidence and getting it all together in competition. Are you still planning a triple flip-triple toe loop combination in your programs?
RF: Definitely. It will be there in the short and long, but as of right now we're not completely certain where it will be in the long. We're still figuring out the patterns. You have also talked about training the triple Axel.
RF: I think I'll still work on it but I don't think it will go in my [free] program this year. It's more something for after the Olympics. I'm keeping my options open, though, and if I start doing them clean [in practice] then I'll put it in, but probably not. I understand Dorothy Hamill has also been working with you?
RF: Dorothy was here for a couple of days watching the [choreographic] process. We had a great time. She and Lori were catching up, talking about shows they had done together when they were working with John Curry. It was a great time, lots of laughter, but we got a lot of work done. We all learn a lot from each other; I guess it's having great minds work together (laughs).

LN: It was so beautiful to see Dorothy again and hear how soothing her voice was and how kind and pure. We were going over old stories and there were a lot of giggles and a lot of 'I don't remember that,' and then we'd remember something else. She was so supportive. She hadn't been skating for a long time, she's had a few struggles medically, but when she took the ice she had champion written all over her with her perfect body lines and the breeze flowing through her beautiful Dorothy Hamill hair. I'm glad she's on board. When will you debut these programs?
RF: We haven't decided which summer competitions I will be competing in as yet. As far as I know I think it will be in late August.