Check out Rachael Flatt's latest offerings on Facebook and Twitter, and you'd think everything must be rocking along fine for the Colorado Springs figure skater.
She just got back from being a headliner at the annual Skate for Hope fund-raiser to benefit breast cancer research in Columbus, Ohio. She'll be at the Olympic Training Center on Saturday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) as a big attraction for the U.S. Olympic Committee's Community Appreciation Day.
Flatt also notes happily that NBC has pulled off the television rights for the Olympics, winter and summer, through 2020, which would include her next mountaintop goal, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
But what you won't see in Flatt's online diary is any indication that her final season in Colorado Springs actually has been disappointing, far from what she envisioned.
She had hoped to add a second national title to her 2010 championship. With luck, maybe she would jump higher toward the world podium. And that would give the 18-year-old (she turns 19 in July) good momentum going into the next phase of her career and life, as a student at Stanford University with skating not as dominant in her everyday routine.
Flatt even delayed her admission into Stanford for a year, hoping to wrap up her time in Colorado on the highest possible note.
Instead, she finished second at Nationals with a free program not up to her standards. When the 2011 Worlds had to be delayed from March to April and moved from Tokyo to Moscow, that seemed helpful. But a leg problem worsened a few days before Worlds began, and Flatt struggled to a 12th-place result.
Afterward, Flatt admitted the leg injury was a stress fracture. She tried to battle through it, as so many skaters through the years have done with the sport's inevitable injuries, but she couldn't succeed.
Then, earlier this month, the U.S. Figure Skating hierarchy added to Flatt's pain, confirming she had been fined for not being more forthright about her injury. (If she had withdrawn, the U.S. could have rushed alternate Mirai Nagasu to Moscow.) At least one report from skating's national media came down hard on Flatt, saying Nagasu would have placed much higher — enough to give the U.S. three ladies spots for the 2012 Worlds instead of two, as Flatt's troubles produced.
It's unfair to Flatt, even if the fine was small. If the intent was to send a signal to other skaters and coaches, it might have the opposite effect. Instead of being candid after an event, skaters might never again acknowledge the slightest injury.
And there's no excuse for the media reports, with wire services picking up on someone else's opinionated view (seconded by Nagasu's coach, Frank Carroll) that Nagasu definitely would have fared much better as a last-minute replacement — despite the fact Nagasu bombed in the free program at Nationals, falling from first to third overall.
If U.S. Figure Skating wants new requirements for skaters reporting injuries, especially for major international events, fine. But it should be a process with input from all involved, including athletes. Not this way, making a negative example out of a skater with a reputation as solid as Flatt has. Yes, there is an agreement that athletes sign about reporting injuries. But most skaters deal with some sort of pain all the time, and it wasn't as though Flatt was incapacitated. She still was able to compete and do her programs.
As up-front as Flatt has always been, and as well as she got along with Nagasu at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, if she had thought the injury was too much, she would have pulled out and perhaps made the call to Nagasu herself. But generally, giving in to injury is sacrilegious for skaters. They honestly believe they can overcome anything with confidence, positive thinking and adrenaline.
Something else: In a sport with many athletes who don't place a high enough priority on academics and preparing for life beyond skating, Flatt is a far better role model. Instead of blowing off classwork, she took advanced courses through Cheyenne Mountain High School and gained acceptance into Stanford. With her obvious maturity, despite a demanding college schedule, Flatt might even benefit in the long run from having less time to train.
We'll miss having Rachael Flatt among the skaters who live in Colorado Springs. But we won't ever stop respecting her as someone who has the right priorities, and who conquers the pressure as well as anyone in her sport.
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