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Thursday, December 29, 2011
Rachael Flatt survives college finals

By Michelle Smith

This is the third installment of our semimonthly series following the life of 2010 U.S. figure skating champion and 2010 Winter Olympian Rachael Flatt, focusing on her adjustment to college and the pursuit of her career.

STANFORD, Calif. -- Rachael Flatt sat at a table outside a coffee shop in the shopping center that's across the road from Stanford Stadium.

Laptop and book open, notebook full of notes, she has sketched out some calculations for her vector calculus final as she sips a cup of coffee and nurses a cold.

She just made the drive back to Stanford after her latest training session, and she's counting the days until she heads "home" to Colorado Springs for the holiday break and the ramp-up for mid-January's U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"It's weird to say that," Flatt said, referencing the trip back to Colorado Springs.

Weird because she doesn't actually live in Colorado Springs anymore. After spending most of her childhood -- and certainly the lion's share of her skating career -- there, her parents moved to San Diego after she began her freshman year at Stanford in September.

But Colorado Springs will be Flatt's home base during her three-week holiday break.

Her upcoming return to Colorado had more than its share of fanfare. A 45-foot vinyl image of Flatt in her skating costume was unveiled on a building in the city. The poster is up to promote the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, which will be held in Colorado Springs in February.

"It was definitely a little bizarre to see myself 45 feet tall -- I think that's the tallest I will ever be," said Flatt, whose height is listed in the 5-foot-0 to 5-foot-2 range on several skating sites.

Upon her return to Colorado, she will train with her former coaches, skate a couple of shows in Vail before Christmas, and begin in earnest her preparations for nationals .

"Staying healthy is key," Flatt said. "Now that I am out of the dorms, without all those germs floating around, it should be easier."

A cold and skating are not a great mix. Clogged ears mess with balance and equilibrium, making jumps precarious. Spinning while congested ... also not fun. Flatt is coming off another underwhelming performance in Moscow over Thanksgiving; she finished ninth out of 10 competitors at the Rostelecom Cup.

But she believes it was a step in the right direction.

"I hurt my ankle before I left. I strained a bunch of the ligaments around the joint and the joint was pretty inflamed," Flatt said. "I wasn't able to do everything I was training to do. It was really disappointing for me because my skating had really improved since Skate Canada."

In her long and short programs, Flatt made only one mistake overall, a contrast to the troubled long program she had in October at the Skate Canada event.

"I was happy to put two solid programs out," Flatt said. "It was nice to have a solid skate."

Flatt is looking forward to her respite in Colorado Springs. Her family will stay at a hotel and celebrate her father's birthday. Her parents are driving in from San Diego with her dogs, two very large Old English sheepdogs, Ethel and Fred.

"I'm sure we will go drive by our old house," Flatt said. "I'm glad I'll be able to spend lots of time with my old friends."

She will work with her former coaches, Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin, in Colorado Springs. They will film her programs and send them back to the Bay Area for review by her current coach, Justin Dillon.

Flatt said she doesn't feel that she has anything to prove at nationals, despite a pair of disappointing finishes in her first two events since she began her freshman year of college.

"I think people are expecting a certain level of performance from me, as I do," Flatt said. "People want to see that it is possible to train at an elite level and go to an elite college. For me, that's not what this is about. I'm skating to perform at a high level and enjoy my performance. That's my goal."

Flatt said she wants to skate artistically and show "that love again."

"In the past, I've focused purely on the technical side, but that only gets me so far," Flatt said. "I want to show a different side of my skating."

Flatt would need to finish in the top two or three at U.S. nationals to move on to the world championships in France, which take place during her spring break.

A third-place finish would likely make her an alternate, but get her a spot in the Four Continents championships in February. She admitted she is a little disappointed not to have made the ISU Grand Prix Final (she would have needed stronger finishes at Skate Canada and the Rostelecom Cup).

"Honestly, I think it's a blessing in disguise, because I had a lot of work to do [last week] in preparation for finals," Flatt said. "But I definitely wanted to compete there. It's a give-and-take process at this point. I'm still working out the balance."

With one academic quarter in the books, it is a natural time to assess how it's gone so far. Flatt and Dillon have altered her training schedule to keep her from spending so many hours in Bay Area commute traffic. She will tailor her next academic quarter schedule -- which begins on Jan. 9 -- to better work around training.

"I wasn't expecting the physical and mental tax of the commute," Flatt said. "Going up to Oakland, it's a good hour up there, and on the way back it can be two hours with traffic, and then I have to find time to go grocery shopping for breakfast stuff, because I leave before the dining hall is open. ... It's been a lot of fun getting to know all the kids in the dorm and have some freshmen experiences with them. We are all learning how to juggle."