Dillon, Smith to guide Flatt in California

2010 U.S. champion turns the page with new coaches

Rachael Flatt has chosen Lynn Smith and Justin Dillon as her primary coaches moving forward.
Rachael Flatt has chosen Lynn Smith and Justin Dillon as her primary coaches moving forward. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/19/2011) - After a summer of rehabilitation, careful consideration and a little fun in the sun, Rachael Flatt is packing her bags for Palo Alto.

The 2010 U.S. champion, who has long trained under Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, is slated to begin classes at Stanford University at the end of September. As she moves to balance elite competition with what promises to be a challenging academic load, Lynn Smith and Justin Dillon will be her primary guides.

"It's definitely bittersweet, but I'm looking forward to new opportunities at college and working with Justin and Lynn," the 19-year-old said.

"I'm going to have a little bit of fun trying new things, taking different classes I never had the opportunity to take in high school. I'll be in San Francisco, and its kind of an epicenter for culture, and I'm really looking forward to getting out and exploring. It's very exciting."

Flatt said Dillon, a longtime U.S. men's competitor who placed a career-high seventh in seniors at the 2001 and 1999 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, has the right skill set to help her attain new creative heights.

"I've known Justin for a while; I've traveled with him [in his role as a U.S. team official] to several competitions, and he's a fun person to be around.

"Working with him, he's definitely pushing me in the right direction. He's great at packaging skaters. He has a great eye for detail. It's been really great working with him so far."

Smith, the 1979 U.S. junior bronze medalist who was one of the first women to land a triple Lutz in competition, will likely focus on the technical aspect of Flatt's programs.

"I think that's fair to say," the skater said. "Justin will certainly still look at the technical side of my skating; he knows the IJS [International Judging System] very well, but I think his main focus will be on the overall package, which I think is really what I need right now."

Dillon and Smith are working out the details of the relationship, surveying available ice time in San Jose and other area rinks.

"Rachael's life is really evolving, and she's moving forward with the artistic goals she has set for herself," Dillon, who was coached by Smith during his own competitive career, said.

"We're looking forward to aiding her on her journey to becoming an artist on the ice. Already I think she and Lori have accomplished a lot with the new free skate [to Stravinsky's Firebird]. Having watched it take shape, I really see Rachael building on the years of consistency she's had and climbing to the next level of the sport."

Flatt plans to add technical difficulty to her programs, including a triple flip-triple toe combination in her East of Eden short program as well as a double Axel-triple toe combination and triple Lutz-half loop-triple loop sequence to her free.

"She's making a good start to the season, coming off an injury [stress fracture in right tibia]," Smith said. "She feels strong physically. Our initial meeting, we worked together several days, and she is technically strong and has a good strong base.

"The most important thing is going to be scheduling; she needs a consistent plan to set small goals she can reach along the way."

Before selecting her new mentors, Flatt examined the Northern California coaching scene and its sometimes busy rinks, spending time with Sergei Ponomarenko, the 1992 Olympic ice dance champion, and four-time U.S. men's champion Charlie Tickner, who won the world title in 1978. She plans to continue her relationship with both.

"I'm going to work with Charlie one or two times a week, in [nearby] Redwood City when I'm in a pinch and I don't have the luxury to drive down to San Jose," she said. "I'm also planning to work with Sergei on occasion in San Jose. I really won't be able to finalize everything until I have my school schedule."

Flatt, who attends U.S. Figure Skating's annual Champs Camp next week, makes the move over Labor Day weekend. Orientation begins Sept. 20, and classes start Sept. 26.

"At Stanford we're on quarter, so we actually start classes much later than everyone else, and we finish later than everyone else, in mid-June," she said.

"Cup of Russia is during Thanksgiving, and I have that whole week off from school, so that works out really well. Hopefully I'll qualify for worlds, and that's during spring break. We'll have to wait and see. I'll just have to find a way to make it work like I've always done."

She is enthusiastic about Firebird, saying it came together unusually quickly.

"It was shocking, actually. We picked the music out with [music editor] Lenore Kay and we ended up getting through almost the entire program by the second day with the exception of the footwork.

"Lori and Lenore really hit the nail on the head with the music choice. It's very different for me, it's very strong, and it's just a program that really suits me well."

Flatt, who sustained her tibia injury around the time of the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow this April, took a long break from skating that she thinks will work out to her advantage.

"I was off the ice for about a month and half, and I wasn't jumping for another month after that, so I got a decent amount of time off," she said. "I think it was an appropriate break. I think my body needed it at that point. It was a very long season, especially with worlds' delay.

"I do feel a little bit behind in my training but I think I can certainly get everything accomplished before my first Grand Prix, Skate Canada [Oct. 27-30]."

She added that the injury, which contributed to a disappointing 12th place finish in Moscow, has almost fully healed.

"After worlds my parents and I went on a vacation to Hawaii, and then came to San Diego to look for a new house," she said.

"When we got back to Colorado Springs, I did a lot of rehabilitation at the OTC [Olympic Training Center], at least once if not twice a day for a month. It was kind of a long process, but my pain is finally going away and I'm really happy with that."