Respect for Rachael

USA's Rachael Flatt performs to Respect by Aretha Franklin at the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships Gala.

When Rachael Flatt skated to Aretha Franklin’s Respect at the exhibition gala of the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, the song had more than one meaning to experienced figure skating devotees. Even though Flatt had recently won the silver medal in senior ladies at the 2008 U.S. Nationals, she was an afterthought in the minds of many coming into World Juniors.

After all, the reigning Junior Worlds gold and silver medalists, Caroline Zhang and Mirai Nagasu, were returning to try and add more medals to their burgeoning collection. So Flatt’s job was to secure the bronze for a second consecutive ladies medal sweep. But Flatt was thinking positive going into the event.

“My skating was strong in training,” she said, “and I was confident coming into Junior Worlds. My goal was to achieve two personal best programs and I accomplished that. It was nice for me to be able to train and not have all the attention and the pressure that was on Mirai and Caroline. Next time, I’ll have the pressure and I’ll just have to deal with it but I hope to take it in stride.”

Flatt skated the best overall programs at Junior Worlds and never missed a jump. She scored personal bests in the short, long and overall and had positive Grades of Execution (GOE) on nearly all of her elements. Her short included a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination, a triple loop, and a double Axel. For the long program, Flatt completed seven triple jumps including a triple flip-double toe-double loop and triple lutz-triple toe loop combinations plus four solo triples – flip, loop, lutz, and salchow.

Overall, Flatt was pleased with her skating in her first appearance at this event. In the short program, she experience a few bobbles going into her spiral sequence as well as her footwork, placing third. “[It was] a little embarrassing,” she said. “I still had a lot of fun and I’m happy with how I skated.”

“I really wanted to achieve my goals and that’s what I did,” said Flatt, after winning the long program and the title. “Going into every jump, I knew that I trained very well and that I could do it. I really went out and attacked, and I think that helped me skate as well as I could. We all skated very well. It was a great competition, and I was really excited to be there.”

Before 2007, Flatt was virtually unknown outside of the United States although she had won the novice ladies competition at the Triglav Trophy in 2005. Her results at U.S. Nationals had been solid with a win in novice ladies in 2005, a silver medal in juniors in 2006, and a fifth place finish in seniors in 2007.

After that high finish, she got the opportunity to compete at the International Challenge Cup in The Hague in the Netherlands in the spring, which she won. That got her assignments at two ISU Junior Grand Prixs in the fall. She responded with a gold medal in Vienna, Austria and a silver medal in Chemnitz, Germany to earn a spot in the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in Gdansk, Poland. Flatt skated well there, finishing second behind teammate Mirai Nagasu.

Then came the silver medal at U.S. Nationals. “My goal for the season was just to improve from last season on every aspect of my skating and I did that,” Flatt said. “And I wanted to medal at Nationals of course. It has definitely been a roller coaster ride but a lot of fun. There’s still a lot more that I want to do but I want to take things one day at a time and build off of this season.”

“When I get home, I want to go back to working on my triple flip-triple loop,” she continued. “I was working on it before Nationals but it wasn’t ready for the program yet. I want to work on that and get more speed and make some refinements in other elements of my skating.”

Flatt has not yet attempted the triple Axel in competition. “Currently I haven’t been working on it off the harness,” she said. “I’ve been working on it on the pole harness, but definitely for next year I hope it will be in my program. I’ll definitely be working on it.”

Flatt plans to concentrate on seniors for the 2008-09 season. “I’ll skate seniors at Nationals for sure and probably skate senior the entire year,” she stated. “Hopefully I’ll get selected for two senior Grand Prixs, but I’ll be happy with one. It will be great to make my senior debut internationally.”

Both of Flatt’s programs were new for the 2007-08 season. Tom Dickson choreographed her short program to It Ain’t Necessarily So by George Gershwin. “I actually found it at Borders,” Flatt said. “We had a meeting at Starbucks about what to use for the short and then went over to listen to music at Borders. I really liked how different it was. It was really a new challenge for me.”

“I love Gershwin’s music,” she added. “It’s perfect for my skating.” She used Gershwin’s Summertime when she won in novice ladies and An American in Paris last season.

Lori Nichol used Romantic Rhapsody by Mathieu to create Flatt’s long program. “I was working with Lori and Lenore Kay,” Flatt said. “We found it in Lenore’s music library. She has an incredible number of CDs. When we first heard it, I knew that was it.”

“Last year, Lori did the short and Tom did the long,” she added. “So this season, they switched. I’ve been working Lori for the last two seasons. Tom choreographed my intermediate pairs program, but then he did not choreograph my programs again until my long program last season. Becky Calvin choreographed my programs during that time. We chose to work with Tom Dickson again for my debut as a senior because he was a great choreographer in town. This also allowed him to work on the components aspect of my skating daily, and it was a nice change.”

Damon Allen and Flatt worked together to choreograph the exhibition program. “Damon told me that an Aretha Franklin piece would be fun to skate to,” Flatt said.

“I’ll definitely change both programs for next season,” Flatt stated. “I like to have new programs every year. It’s not that I get bored, but I like new challenges. Doing new programs helps me develop more completely. I like to try different kinds of music every year to see what suits me. I’m still working on my style. I’m hoping to find two great pieces of music again.”

Flatt took piano lessons at a younger age and noted that the experience had helped her interpret music better. Off ice, she listens to everything except hard rock, heavy metal, techno and country.

The 15-year-old was born in California, but trains in Colorado Springs, Colorado with Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin. She has worked with Zakrajsek for seven years, the last six of which he has been her primary coach. She normally practices on ice for about three and a half hours a day, five days a week, plus another hour and a half on Saturday.

Flatt has tried ice dancing and used to compete in pairs. She won the silver medal for juvenile pairs at 2003 U.S. Nationals and topped the podium in intermediate pairs in 2004 with Andrew Speroff. She started doing pairs just for fun, but started taking it seriously when she and Speroff performed well, but stopped when he was injured.

Her parents weren’t figure skaters, but they did play hockey. After watching an ice show, she decided to try skating when she was about four. Flatt also trained as a gymnast between the ages of five and nine, winning some locale events. But when she was selected for higher-level training, she had to choose between skating and gymnastics and stayed on the ice instead.

Flatt is a sophomore at Cheyenne Mountain High School, where she currently maintains a high average in the honors program. Since her parents are both scientists, she does well in mathematics and sciences. Originally she had planned to be a veterinarian, but now plans a career in sports medicine.

She does have a few pets at home including two dogs and a cat. Off ice, Flatt likes to read, play tennis, watch movies, and hang out with friends. She also enjoys boogie boarding and surfing in the summer.

Flatt will be one of the headliners at the Blades for the Cure ice show in Colorado Springs on April 12, possibly inspiring some other youngsters to take up the sport like she did. The benefit for the American Cancer Society was actually founded by Jody, her mother. “I wish I had time to do more volunteer work,” Flatt added,” but my life is so structured now that I don’t have any time.”

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