|espnW.com: Athlete's Life|
SAN JOSE -- If this was an ending of any kind for Rachael Flatt, it was a happy one.
Flatt landed 11 jumps, including four triples in her free skate Saturday night at HP Pavilion, capping a difficult season with her best performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Ashley Wagner won the title while Flatt finished sixth with 164.98 points.
When it was over, the 2010 national champion pumped both fists in the air, looked around at the standing ovation she was getting and put her hand over her face, holding back tears.
Ten minutes later in the mixed zone, she asked a television crew if she could wear her Stanford baseball cap while doing the interview.
"I am so happy, just ecstatic," Flatt said, exhaling. "I really gave it my all, and that was my primary goal. I'm overjoyed at this point. It's been a really rough season. After basically starting to do triple loops and triple lutzes about two weeks ago, to this point ... I'm just on cloud nine."
Flatt was in ninth place heading into the ladies free skate. She pulled out of a double-axel Thursday night and acknowledged the mental mistake, but was disappointed in the judges' marks.
She said she skated Saturday's program "the most relaxed I've ever been going into a program. Going in, I knew I wasn't burdened by certain outcomes that were expected of me. I wasn't paying attention to those this time."
After finishing ninth and 10th in a pair of Grand Prix events, it was easily her best skate of the season.
Flatt said she hasn't listened to people who questioned whether she could be a full-time student at Stanford and an elite skater.
"Honestly, I don't pay attention to any of that," Flatt said. "I don't really care what people say anymore. I am out here to do my best, out here to have fun. It's not my job to take what some people say to heart. I have certain people's opinions that I hold at a high level and that's what's important to me."
Coach Lynn Smith said she was "elated" that Flatt finished strong.
"She's come into this competition in a different place, not result-oriented," Smith said. "She was really trying to do it for herself. It really was only about her."
Flatt laughed about the amount of homework she's neglected this week. The dormmates who showed up on Thursday night to cheer her on were not in the arena on Saturday. They were off on a ski trip.
"I'm kind of bummed," Flatt said. "They told me just to skate the short and go with them. I told them, 'That's not the way nationals work.'"
Flatt said she will take a couple of weeks off at the end of the season to rest her ailing right ankle (perhaps she will also get rid of the head cold she's had for a week) and then make a decision about her future and whether she moves forward to attempt to compete in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"She's got a full load at school," Smith said. "This was a great moment for her. ... It's been hard with the move and trying to fit the training in; she misses the support of Colorado Springs and the Olympic training center there. I think this was just a huge relief. She was just skating for herself."