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Flatt scrapping jazzy short for Greensboro

Defending champion says ankle is fine and spirits are high

Rachael Flatt will use a new short program in her bid to defend her U.S. title.
Rachael Flatt will use a new short program in her bid to defend her U.S. title. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/20/2011) - After an up-and-down Grand Prix season, Rachael Flatt heads to Greensboro with renewed confidence and a new short program, choreographed by Lori Nichol to Lee Holdridge's 1981 score for the TV mini-series East of Eden.

The Colorado Springs-based skater, who won silver at Skate America while battling severe tendonitis in her right ankle, is fit and ready to launch her title defense at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships next week.

"I've made a fully recovery; I'm very happy to say things are back to normal," Flatt, 18, said.

"[Placing sixth] at the Grand Prix Final last month, that was a little blip on my radar screen. I'm training incredibly well heading into nationals. As long as I do there what I've been doing in practice, I think I'll be fine."

At the Final in Beijing, Flatt made uncharacteristic jump errors in both of her programs. Coach Tom Zakrajsek attributed much of the trouble to curtailed training time due to the injury.

"Rachael is a repetition skater; when she trains, she does many clean programs and lots of repetitions of jumps, so when she's injured it affects her confidence level, even though she can still do the skills," he said.

"Now she has been pain-free for a while and is extremely well prepared. She's getting her reps in."

In Greensboro, Flatt plans seven triples in her free skate to Richard Rodgers' Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, including a double Axel-triple toe loop combination.

"If we make it past nationals [to Four Continents and/or the world championships], we're working on different program content, hopefully a triple loop combination as well as a triple toe combination, so I have two triple-triples and can increase my technical score," she said.

Flatt made another decision calculated to increase her chances at qualifying for her third U.S. world team: she scrapped her short program, choreographed by Nichol to a medley of Gershwin's languid "Summertime" and more two more up-tempo jazz tunes.

"It just wasn't getting the best reviews," she said. "We weren't getting the feedback we wanted to hear.

"Pretty much after [winning silver at] NHK Trophy in October, my parents and I, along with Tom and Lori, discussed switching. We weren't sure if we would go back to my old short ["Sing, Sing, Sing"] or get new music and new choreography. After Skate America, I was absolutely sure I would scrap the short."

Zakrajsek said the team takes constructive criticism from different sources -- judges, officials, reporters and fans -- into consideration, sifts through it, and then acts.

"The feedback we got on the short from USFS' Champs Camp [at the end of the summer] and also throughout the Grand Prix was the short wasn't as well received as the long program. When get that kind of feedback, we listen.

"Rachael and Lori choose the music together; certainly I had some input, not on the specific piece of music but on where we wanted the program to go. We wanted something more mature, more refined and elegant. The start of the program, Summertime, was sensual and mature, and then it cut to music similar to last year's short. What we chose, East of Eden, has an emotional arc with mature, strong feeling, instead of breaking it up with two unrelated pieces of music."

Just 24 hours after returning from Beijing, Flatt caught a plane for Toronto, where Nichol is based. The two finished the program in two days and spent another day working polishing the work.

"Lori and I listened to East of Eden on a car ride; I wasn't sure about it at first, but when we heard it at [music editor] Lenore Kaye's place -- she has a basement with fantastic stereo equipment -- I knew it could be amazing," Flatt said.

"From that point on, Lori came up with a phenomenal program. The jumps are the same, the spins are the same [as my old short]; the choreography is entirely different. I think it's my best program yet. I can't wait to debut it at nationals; I hope it blows everyone away."

East of Eden is closely associated with skating icon Michelle Kwan, who used it for both exhibition and competitive routines at different stages of her storied career. Her East of Eden short for the 2000-01 season, also choreographed by Nichol, garnered seven perfect 6.0's for presentation at the 2001 U.S. Championships, where she won the fifth of her nine national titles.

"When Lori choreographed the program, she focused on how I move, how I skate," Flatt said. "She had choreographed Michelle's program, but this was done using a different judging system."

Zakrajsek thinks factoring out music associated with other skaters would be limiting.

"Many skaters have done well with Firebird, Scheherezade, and Rachmaninoff concertos," he said. "Certainly we are aware Michelle skated to the music. It was an amazing performance under the 6.0 system. I trust Lori's instincts; she suggested the music, and she choreographed it for the International Judging System [IJS], so it's a very different program under a very different system."