The Inside Edge: Fancy coats for Aaron, Flatt

Aaron celebrates birthday with suit; Johnson appreciates acclaim; Flatt thinks medicine

Alex Johnson wowed the crowd with his free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships.
Alex Johnson wowed the crowd with his free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships. (Tom Briglia)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(02/25/2013) - Max Aaron turns 21 on Monday, and he hasn't really stopped smiling since he won the U.S. title last month. He radiates happiness even when he's just warming up on the ice. And he recently made an important first-time purchase.

"I just got my first suit!" Aaron told us. "I didn't have time to get one before Four Continents, and at the banquet I felt like I was the only one not in a suit. I just had a J. Crew shirt and tie; it was a little embarrassing, but as soon as I got back from Four Continents, I bought a suit."

We'll look forward to seeing how he looks at the worlds banquet next month.

Back on the international scene

Besides Aaron's electrifying free skate in Omaha, Alex Johnson's fifth-place free skate was the talk of the championships.

"Alexander Johnson just skated one of the most beautiful free programs I've ever seen," Sandra Bezic tweeted from the arena.

Johnson hadn't competed internationally since the 2009 Finlandia Trophy, but a few days after he got home from Omaha, he got word that he had been selected to compete in the 2013 Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, which took place Feb. 21-24.

Johnson delivered, winning the free skate with 152.01 points. He had 228.54 points overall and just missed the gold by 0.12 points. He took the silver medal behind Brian Joubert.

"I knew it would be tough after coming off such a high from the U.S. championships, but I'm really proud of myself for putting out two solid programs," Johnson emailed the day after the free skate. "To end up second was just icing on the cake and a great way to finish my season."

We had talked to Johnson before he left for the Netherlands, shortly after he had heard about the assignment.

"I found out last night while I was at work," he said. "I got an email, and I was so excited I could not focus at all."

We asked Johnson how he was enjoying the buzz about his skating.

"I feel like people have really believed in me and I never really believed in myself," he said. "I've heard from a couple of people who have been with me from day one, saying, 'It's about time you did that.' I've had nothing but positive messages from people.

"[The standing ovation after the free skate] is what everyone in the sport lives for, and I hope everyone can experience that, because it feels amazing."

Johnson burst into tears of happiness at the end of his "Eleanor Rigby" free skate in Omaha. The elegant contemporary-style program was nearly clean, with two triple Axels, a cool triple Lutz-half loop-triple flip combination, and three other triples. We don't recall anyone else ever doing the Lutz-flip combination.

"One day, Tom [Dickson] said, 'Try a triple' (as the second jump), so I tried triple Lutz-half loop-triple flip and I landed it the first time," Johnson said. "We just decided to do something different. I don't think anyone else has done that combination, but [Evgeni] Plushenko did triple Axel-half loop-triple flip."

Johnson knows he needs to add a quad to his programs to up the technical content, and he's working on a quad toe.

"It's fairly close, so we'll see how it develops through the offseason," he said. "Now that I have the triple Axel under my belt, I feel like I can spend more time focusing on the toe."

Johnson's coaches are Tom Dickson and Catarina Lindgren; he also works once a week with Christy Krall.

"Tom and Catarina have been the huge factors in changing and developing my skating to where it is today," he said.

Prior to 2013, Johnson had finished 17th, 16th and 15th in the senior division at the U.S. championships. In 2012, he joked that at the rate he was going, he would make it to the top of the podium in 14 more years. The low finishes were due in part to a string of injuries.

"The past three years, I wasn't able to train the way that I would have liked to," Johnson said. "I had been plagued by injuries, and then this year I finally got those under control and was able to train 100 percent from the beginning of the season on.

"Training smart really helped me to put out the skates that I did. The months that led up to nationals, I was really focused."

Dr. Flatt?

Rachael Flatt hasn't competed since Skate America last October. The 2010 U.S. champion has been hard at work at Stanford University, where she is a sophomore. We talked to her on the phone Saturday, in the midst of midterm exams.

"I have one [midterm] left on Tuesday, and I can't tell you how ecstatic I am," she said. "It's been a very hectic quarter so far."

Next week, Flatt will declare her major: biology. This semester, the pre-med student is taking biology, chemistry, computer science and a biology lab.

"I'm also doing a one-unit course, shadowing doctors at Stanford Hospital or the Palo Alto VA," she said. "I got to shadow my doctor on Thursday; he's an orthopedic surgeon. I got to go in the OR, and it was so cool! I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

"I think that's definitely something I should pursue in the future. I've always been incredibly interested in medicine."

Flatt had originally planned to go into bioengineering, but she seems to have made up her mind to become a doctor.

"I decided engineering wasn't my cup of tea," she said. "But after I took a procedural anatomy class, where we worked with cadavers, and a sports medicine class that I took this past fall, and I loved both of them, it was like 'OK, done.' I know what I'm doing."

As for skating, Flatt took two months off after Skate America to let her body heal.

"After nationals last year, I took some time off, and then I re-injured my back last summer," she said. "I've had really severe tendinitis for the last two or three seasons, and it really has not gone away. My body was just telling me to take it easy. It was definitely necessary. I feel much better."

Flatt says she is currently skating a couple of days a week; she skated in a show in Washington recently and said she had "a blast" doing it. She's also participating in the Moving 650 Project for Sony. Several athletes and dancers from the San Francisco area are using tiny video cameras to record what they do.

"I wore a helmet with the camera on top the other day [while I skated]," she said. "I definitely got some funny looks at the rink! I taped the camera onto my skate a couple mornings ago. I'm posting a lot of stuff on Facebook and Twitter."

Along with school and skating, Flatt is dancing with the Urban Styles dance company, focusing on contemporary dance and doing some choreography.

"I'm working on a piece for them right now," she said. "It'll probably be performed at some point."

Flatt is vague about whether she'll compete again.

"At this point, I'm obviously very busy with school and everything," she said. "At the same time, skating is near and dear to my heart, and I'd like to be involved as long as I possibly can. If I'm able to train without pain, that would be incredible. If I can do that, I would definitely consider competing through next year, but my health and academics come first; I wouldn't be at Stanford if that weren't the case."

That's all for now -- the very best of luck to everyone competing at junior worlds in Milan this week!

Sarah and Drew
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