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Flatt focused on Moscow, but also looking ahead

It's off to Stanford in fall; goodbye for now to coaching team

Rachael Flatt is still unsure of her training plans for next season when she attends Stanford University.
Rachael Flatt is still unsure of her training plans for next season when she attends Stanford University. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/25/2011) - It's once more, with feeling, for Rachael Flatt and longtime coach Tom Zakrajsek in Moscow.

The 18-year-old graduate of Cheyenne Mountain High School will begin Stanford University in Palo Alto, Ca., this fall and say goodbye to her long tenure training full-time under Zakrajsek at Colorado Springs' World Arena.

"It's definitely bittersweet for me," Flatt told reporters on a teleconference last week. "It's tough knowing it's my last competition representing the Broadmoor (FSC) and working with Tom as my main coach full-time.

"At the same time I'm starting a new chapter in my life, I'm going to start fresh at college in the fall, so I have lots of things to look forward to."

Flatt has selected a challenging chemical engineering major, but is still undecided -- or perhaps just mum -- about her training and coaching plans.

"I'm not entirely sure of the logistics yet," she said. "I am going to go out to Palo Alto for a couple of weeks this summer to try to figure out the coaching situation, training facilities. That will be a nice kind of introduction to that new feeling and that new place to train.

"I think I've showed I am fairly mentally tough when it comes to training at the elite level, as well as maintaining a really good academic track record on top of that. Taking four AP classes last year, as well as making the Olympic team, maintaining straight A's . . . I'm pretty proud of that."

Even in the 1980s, academically inclined skaters like Debbie Thomas and Paul Wylie were challenged to balance full-time college and competing. Under the demanding International Judging System (IJS), it is perhaps even more difficult.

Emily Hughes, who won U.S. bronze and silver medals in 2006 and 2007, respectively, was unable to duplicate those results after enrolling in Harvard in the fall 2007. (Hughes will receive her degree in December.) Many top U.S. ice dancers pursue studies part-time at the University of Michigan.

"As far as my academic load goes, I'm thinking about doing a full load my first quarter, just to see how that goes," Flatt said. "I'm talking to a few of my pre-major counselors in the chemical engineering department about what will be the best for me as I travel for the [fall 2011] Grand Prix season and hopefully [2012] Four Continents and worlds."

Like every other North American skater interviewed in recent weeks, Flatt claimed the month's delay in holding the 2011 ISU World Figure Skating Championships worked out to her advantage. Originally scheduled to take place in Tokyo in March, the event was cancelled after Japan's earthquake, and eventually moved to Moscow. The ladies short program is on Friday, April 29th. Flatt arrives in Moscow on Tuesday, April 26th.

"The extra training has really been beneficial to me," she said. "I'm continuing to work on the details of the programs and continue to work on my artistry, especially in the long program, to bring that up to the level of my short."

After her sixth-place finish at the Grand Prix Final, Flatt and her longtime choreographer, Lori Nichol, created a new short to "East of Eden," music famously interpreted by Michelle Kwan in both exhibition and competition programs.

In an interview last month, Zakrajsek told the Colorado Gazette that some judges have told him "East of Eden" is "the best short program in the world."

"I feel like I've never had a program like this so far," Flatt said. "I must thank Lori Nichol for that; it was a special moment when we finished this program and took a look at how great it is.

"At this point I really want to skate it as freely as possible at worlds. I want to land my triple, triple [combination] and make sure it comes out strongly, and I want the program to come to fruition. I thought I did a good job at nationals and Four Continents, but it still wasn't over the edge for me. I'm still looking for that extra little something."

Zakrajsek has tinkered with the layout of her free program to "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue."

"I'm [now] doing double Axel-triple toe in my long, and doing a triple loop in the second half," Flatt said. "It's going really well in training, it certainly is a much more comfortable program for me to perform."

No U.S. woman has stood on the world podium since Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen won gold and bronze, respectively, in 2006. In Moscow, Flatt and U.S. champion Alissa Czisny will square off against a formidable group including Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim (of whom Flatt said, "I'm sure she will be back for worlds stronger than ever"); the triple-Axel wielding Mao Asada, who has grown stronger as the season progressed; and former world champion Miki Ando.

Still, Flatt thinks the over-long season may play into her hands.

"I think it's kind of anyone's game at this point," Flatt said. "Our bodies are all a little bit more tired; the season lasted a lot longer than we were expecting.

"I feel like I've been training really well. I've been doing clean programs in practice a lot and also [pushing] the limits of my artistry. I don't think worlds this year will about who skates clean; it will be who is willing to fight the most and gives it their all. I'm certainly looking forward to that type of competition."