A season after she made her Olympic debut, Rachael Flatt gave as much consideration to watering down her routines as she did to skipping college. Not an option. No chance.
“When it comes to something I’m doing,” she said, “I don’t like to really take it easy.”
So it wasn’t a surprise when the Broadmoor Skating Club member elevated the difficulty of her short program, then toyed with her long program, even on the brink of a transition year in which she plans to change coaches, switch clubs and begin studies at Stanford.
It’s hard to dispute Flatt’s results – the Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate won a pair of silver medals on the Grand Prix tour, at the NHK Trophy in October and at Skate America in November; recorded a sixth-place finish at the Grand Prix Final in December; marked a runner-up finish at the U.S. Championships in January; and placed fourth at the Four Continents Championships in February. All while battling a spate of injuries.
Flatt, 18, will conclude her season, and probably skate for the final time representing The Broadmoor and the last time under Broadmoor coach Tom Zakrajsek, when she competes at the world championships next month in Moscow. The competition, scheduled to begin last week, was moved by the International Skating Union from Tokyo after an earthquake and tsunami March 11 devastated Japan, with 10,600 people dead and 16,500 missing.
Last year, Flatt was ninth at worlds, coming off her first national title and a seventh-place showing at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Since then, she has altered the music in her short, making it more emotional in hopes of highlighting artistry that was lacking, and she has revamped about 90 seconds of music and choreography in the middle section of her long, the beneficiary of a recent trip to Toronto to work with choreographer Lori Nichol.
She also has refined her spins, and she’s still taking big risks on her jumps, with a double axel-triple loop combination and a triple-triple in her repertoire. In short, the maturity of her skating finally equals her maturity as a person off the ice. And she has been rewarded, with a career-best score of 118.08 in the free skate at Four Continents and feedback from judges that she “has the best short program in the world,” according to Zakrajsek.
“I wanted to take this year seriously, especially since I was taking a year off from school to continue to improve my skating and get some better results,” said Flatt, whose right leg is pain free, as is her back, despite three bulging disks. She added that “it’s hard to know if I’ll ever be 100 percent at my best. I’m such a perfectionist, I’ll always find something wrong with my performances. … I’m hoping that I can continue to push my boundaries.”
Some skaters, like Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and Olympian Johnny Weir, sat out this season altogether, knowing the 2014 Sochi Games are three years away. Others went with simpler routines, “which is why many of them are not on the world team,” Zakrajsek said, adding Flatt “managed to push forward” in joining national champion Alissa Czisny at worlds. “That pressure, she knows how to handle that probably better than anyone.”
No U.S. woman has touched the world podium since Kimmie Meissner (gold) and Sasha Cohen (bronze) in 2006. Getting there would be special for Flatt, who aspires to compete at nationals in 2012 but isn’t sure about other events in her freshman year at Stanford as a chemical engineering major. About worlds, Flatt said, “I don’t think about outcome. I’m more focused on what I need to do to make sure I perform the way I’ve been training.”
Zakrajsek said Flatt “has shown that she has done a lot to make herself podium-ready,” and she keeps practicing “at the level that brought her all the success and recognition that came out of the Olympics. … I think she’s inching closer to the podium.”