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Nichol's choreography shines in top U.S. ladies

Former U.S. novice competitor creates for Nagasu, Cohen, Flatt

Mirai Nagasu's programs were choreographed by Lori Nichol.
Mirai Nagasu's programs were choreographed by Lori Nichol. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2010) - Mirai Nagasu, Sasha Cohen and Rachael Flatt have much in common: determination, focus and ability.

The top three short program finishers also share the same choreographer, Toronto-based Lori Nichol, the last word when it comes to polishing performances.

"It's like being a parent to multiple children," Nichol said of choreographing for multiple top skaters.

"I have two sons, I love them the same amount, and my job is to be the best parent I can be and help them lead productive lives. That's my role.

"I see my role [as a choreographer] the same way. I do my best; I've learned what I can about the artistic aspect of skating; and I love skating. It's up to the judges to decide the rest."

Nichol can't be too surprised about Nagasu and Flatt's sterling short programs; she worked separately with each in the weeks heading into Spokane, and said both were "skating up a storm." And unlike some in the figure skating world, she never doubted the legitimacy of Cohen's comeback.

"She certainly had intense practice sessions; she was very, very serious about listening, about doing new things with her skating," Nichol said. "My hat's off to her that she's so willing to do this at her age and with the success she's already had."

Typically Nichol, who works in partnership with longtime music editor Lenore Kay, selects her "top ten" list of memorable pieces each winter and presents ideas to skaters in the spring.

"Sometimes what's difficult is the music I may be suggesting is not the style of music they would normally think of," she said. "It can be really tough to sell them on what I think is an appropriate piece of music.

"I study them very closely, and try to understand how their bodies work best. I try to understand their emotions, and what they need from the music, what motivates and inspires them."

Sometimes, a determined skater sells Nichol on a concept.

"At first, I wasn't sure about Carmen for Mirai's free skate, but she just loves the music, and when she's happy out there she can just light up he planet," she said.

It was Nichol who first presented Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing" to Flatt.

"A big grin came across her face when she heard it," she said.

"As for the free [to "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini"], she's always loved that piece of music. She reacted to it instantly."

Things worked a bit differently with Cohen.

"She came to me with her [free skate] music, Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," which she had been using for a show program last year," Nichol said.

"So I didn't choose the music, nor did I use my normal music editor, Lenore. That was a little difficult; I wasn't in total agreement with some of the musical phrases, but by then it was so close to U.S. nationals, and she was comfortable with it."

Nagasu, Cohen and Flatt aren't the only prominent U.S. skaters on Nichol's client list; she also works with Brandon Mroz and Caroline Zhang, as well as international competitors Patrick Chan; Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao; Carolina Kostner; Tomas Verner; and others.

As for her programs for world champion Evan Lysacek, Nichol said they have evolved into true collaborations. "I've worked with him for years. He's a very creative person, and a phenomenal performer with an incredible energy level."

Nichol isn't in Spokane to watch her handiwork; she recently took over coaching duties for Chan, who won his third consecutive Canadian title in London, Ontario last week.

"This coaching situation with Patrick just happened; it wasn't planned," said Nichol.

As a U.S. novice competitor, Nichol trained under Chan's former coach, Don Laws. Prior to having children, she worked as a coach.

"Patrick is training smart now; he's on the right track," she said.

While Nichol admits to sometimes getting nervous watching her programs play out on the ice, she gives herself a piece of advice she often hands out to skaters.

"I always tell them, 'You control what you can control and let go of the rest,'" she said.

"You can control the music and how smart you train; you can love skating; you can get out on the ice and believe in yourself. That's all you can control."

Abbott to appear on Today Show

Jeremy Abbott will be featured on NBC's Today Show on Friday, January 29th. The two-time U.S. champion will be interviewed, and will perform at Rockefeller Center.