When Rachael Flatt was not at her rink in Colorado Springs, Colo., last summer, she was tuned into the Beijing Olympic Games, taking in every moment from gymnast Nastia Liukin’s gold medal in the all around to swimmer Michael Phelp’s historic eighth gold medal in swimming.
“I was glued to the TV,” she said. “It’s such an amazing event to watch, especially when the athletes are at the peak of their careers. I think I skated a little bit better then because I was so motivated by seeing other people’s dreams become a reality.”
Steps away from where the magic of the 2008 Olympic Games occurred, two-time U.S. silver medalist Flatt finds herself embarking on an Olympic journey of her own. She starts her season at Cup of China, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, a little over 100 days from the start of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
“It’s going to be a very exciting autumn season and an important one as U.S. Figure Skating has included the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Final results as a factor, along with U.S. nationals and 2009 Worlds, as a determining factor for the Olympic team,” Flatt said.
The 2008 World Junior Champion finished fourth at Skate America and second at Cup of Russia last year, making her the highest ranking American lady internationally last season. She won a second consecutive silver medal at nationals before topping it off with a fifth place showing at the World Championships in Los Angeles.
She will compete against a talented field of ladies in Beijing including 2007 U.S. Junior Ladies Champion and 2008 U.S. Champion Mirai Nagasu, who was battling an ankle injury for most of last season. Nagasu finished fifth, behind Flatt, at 2008 Skate America, eighth at NHK Trophy, fifth at the 2009 U.S. Championships and withdrew from the World Junior Championships.
In May, Nagasu left longtime coach Charlene Wong to train with Frank Carroll, the coach who led two-time Olympic medalist and five-time World Champion Michelle Kwan throughout most of her career. Carroll currently coaches World Champion Evan Lysacek and two-time World medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy, both of whom will compete at the Cup of China.
Reigning World silver medalist Joannie Rochette of Canada is contending at Cup of China along with Finland’s Kiira Korpi, 2007 European Championship bronze medalist; Japan’s Fumie Suguri, two-time World bronze medalist; and Japan’s Akiko Suzuki, silver medalist at 2008 NHK Trophy.
American Bebe Liang will also compete for the first time since her 14th place showing at nationals last season. On the 2008 Grand Prix circuit, she was sixth at Skate Canada and fifth at Trophee Eric Bompard. She also finished fifth at the 2008 U.S. Championships and then 10th at Worlds.
Knowing that every competition from Cup of China onward will be a challenge — one she says that she is excited about, Flatt has a game plan.
“This year, I am working to improve my component scores, especially increasing my speed,” Flatt said. “I really want to create a distinct style to my skating because in the end, that is what will separate me from everyone else. Because the technical difficulty is approximately the same among the top skaters, it comes down to the execution of those elements as well as the overall package. Perfecting the little details and adding refinement to my skating is the ultimate goal for this year.”
She is attempting the triple flip-triple toe combination in her short program set to “Sing! Sing! Sing!” (Part 2) from the musical Fosse. The combinations in her “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” by Sergei Rachmaninov free skate are the triple flip-triple toe, triple lutz-double toe and triple flip-double toe-double loop.
Overseeing her push toward Vancouver is an extensive coaching team that includes Tom Zakrajsek, who also coaches Ryan Bradley, Alexe Gilles and Brandon Mroz, and choreographer Lori Nichol. She is mentored by 1976 Olympic Champion Dorothy Hamill through a new U.S. Figure Skating mentor program.
“Working with Dorothy is unfathomable,” Flatt said. “She is such an incredible woman. She has had so many life experiences that I can only dream about. Every time I see her or talk to her, I am in awe that I am actually talking to the Dorothy Hamill.”
In preparation for Cup of China, Flatt is training 25 hours a week, a regimen that she will continue throughout the rest of the season. She also does off-ice training including workouts with her personal trainer Bo Sandoval at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“The motto I go by is ‘Work hard, play harder,” said Flatt, a high school senior who is enrolled in advanced placement courses and looking at Ivy League colleges. “My parents and I live by that because we all work incredibly hard at what we do, but more importantly, we enjoy it. Sometimes, it is difficult to find enthusiasm in the daily grind of training, but reminding yourself how much you enjoy skating is crucial.
“I admit that there are days when I get to the rink that I am tired of doing programs or triple-triple combinations or even working on components,” she said. “But it is on those days that I try to get the most out of my training because I push myself through it. Sometimes, I do something that I absolutely love to do even if it involves doing a little piece of choreography from an older program for a few minutes just to go back and remind myself how much I love to skate. So, it comes down to being passionate for what you do. Having fun and enjoying the journey as a whole is the most important part of skating.”
The final leg of the journey kicks off 3:55 p.m. local time on Friday with the ladies short program. The ladies free skate is at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Beijing Capital Gymnasium.
Cup of China is the third event of the 2009 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit. The series, now in its 15th season, consists of six international events in a cumulative, point-scoring format. The top six scoring athletes in each discipline move onto the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 3-6, in Tokyo, Japan, which will be combined with the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final for the second consecutive season.
The six Grand Prix events are Trophee Eric Bompard, Oct. 15-18, in Paris, France; Rostelecom Cup, Oct. 22-25, in Moscow Russia; Cup of China, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, in Beijing, China; NHK Trophy, Nov. 5-8, in Nagano, Japan; Skate America, Nov. 12-15, in Lake Placid, N.Y.; and Skate Canada, Nov. 19-22, in Kitchener, Canada.
The points toward the Grand Prix Final that are awarded for each place are 15 points for first; 13 points for second; 11 points for third; nine points for fourth; seven points for fifth; five points for sixth place; four points for seventh place; and three points for eighth. In pair skating, only the top six receive points.
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