Rachael and Tom learning how to curl. With Figure Skating Team Leader Lorrie Parker at practice.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


I think it was very fitting that I watched the closing ceremonies from the comfort of my living room. The past 16 days have been rewarding, exciting and transforming to say the least. I probably described it much more thoroughly and accurately in my other entries (Doing this last entry reminds me of how much I hated writing summary paragraphs at the end of a paper.)

Now I am back home. Back to the reality of everyday life. Back to work. Back to the task of helping figure skating athletes reach their dreams over another four year cycle...

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Since many reporters have called and I have received several e-mails from many people, I thought I should say something about Rachael's technical scores from the long program. Rachael and I accept the calls about her triple flips being downgraded. In our sport these type of calls are labeled "field of play decisions". The ISU can better explain this process since it is not entirely transparent to coaches and athletes like it is in the NFL or other sports that use instant replay.

After watching her performance first on CTV and then on NBC when I returned home, I did not see anything that made me suspicious that both triple flip jumps were underrotated. In fact, commentators from both television stations were also surprised by the calls based on slow motion replay of the jumps in question from their camera angles (the ISU camera is not part of the various network cameras). Her GOEs from the judging panel indicate that in the case of the triple flip-triple toe combo she gained an extra .60 points based on the quality of completion. (In her short program when she was given full credit for the same combination, she gained .40 points.) If a judge thinks a jump is not fully rotated when they review it on their screen (judges can review up to four elements in slow motion), that judge can take a minus deduction between -1 to -3, with -1 being less severe and -3 being the most severe. On her second triple flip combination with 3 jumps, Rachael was given 4 base values, 2 +1s and 3 -1s. She lost only .06 on this combination after the high and low marks were dropped and then averaged. These are the facts I know from the score sheet that Rachael and I were given.

Downgrades are common in our sport for many of the top skaters (men and women)--not just Rachael. When they are not obvious to the naked eye, these calls are frustrating not only to the skaters and coaches, but also to the fans and audience that doesn't understand. Perhaps the ISU can show the camera angle they use on a big screen like they do in the NFL and give the audience the ability to agree or disagree with the specialists' call. Even though this would not change the final decision, greater transperency would be good for the sport.

Friday, February 26, 2010


What a great evening of ladies figure skating. I was so proud of Rachael and impressed with the high level of competition. Obviously, the downgraded triple flips cost Rachael a whole lot of points, but overall she had a great experience here. She is definitely learning that the podium is about faster, higher and stronger, in addition to poise.

There seems to be some confusion regarding personal bests so I thought I would clarify things. When Rachael scored over 200 points at nationals, that number becomes her new national personal best. Her score of 182.49 at the Olympic Games is now her new ISU personal best, which means her short program and long program scores were her highest of the season for any international event. The ISU does not count any skater's score from their own national championship because they assume there will be a certain amount of national bias in the score.

As her coach, I was pleased with little things in her performance like the combination spin being faster and receiving positive GOEs from every judge and her triple loop and triple lutz-double toe combination, which were both done with ease. Next week, it will be back to work for the World Championships which will be held in Torino, Italy, the site of the 2006 Olympic Games.

During the Olympics, I have been working out in the Olympic Village gym, which is like you would expect it to be: amazing! While there I observed Mark Johnson, the coach of the US women's silver medal hockey team (he played and scored two goals on the winning 1980 Men's hockey team in Lake Placid). He was already on the treadmill when I walked in and was still on the treadmill when I left about an hour later. I was speaking to some of the ladies from his team this morning (and congratulating them on their silver medal) and they told me he has completed 3 IRON MAN competitions. No wonder I felt like I was being lazy when I worked out the other day.

There is a place called the Olympic Village living room. It is an actual building that has any type of video game imaginable, a Vitamin water bar, a signature wall for the athletes, a living wall of plants and a stage where variouos bands perform. The music styles vary from day to day and have included jazz, soul, hip-hop, rock, alternative, etc. Most notably eighties band Devo hit the stage a few days ago.

Frank and I are off to do some sightseeing on this very rainy day in Vancouver.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Today was a back to work day for Rachael and I and all of the other 24 female skaters (the bottom six were cut after the short program) and their coaches. At this highest level of the sport all of the ladies have a plan for exactly how they train on the day in between the short and long program. Every lady today did something different on the first practice and only three of the top six ladies did the second practice: Rachael, Mirai and Mao.

Rachael and I discussed her short program in detail and as you might expect we were very pleased with her debut Olympic performance since she improved her international personal best by over six points. We got to watch it on CTV while she was warming up for her first practice. Except for the triple lutz, which I called a squeaker, many of her elements were done to the best of her ability. She was all smiles yesterday from the moment we met to take the bus over, through her off-ice warm up, on-ice 6 minute warm up, while she was waiting to compete, while she competed, in the kiss and cry and in the mix zone with the press afterward. Needless to say, she was so excited to compete and I think it showed.

As a coach with a critical eye, I offered her feedback on what she did well and kept my criticisms to a minimum. Rachael knows the areas that could have been better besides completing a stronger triple lutz, which probably cost her 4th place (she lost 1 full point of the Grade of Execution or GOE of that jump and placed .12 behind Miki Ando from Japan). She is also learning what it takes to reach the podium. From my point of view, Rachael keeps getting stronger and stronger each time she shares the ice with Yuna and Mao.

Even though we are at the Olympic Games, there is still much to be learned. Becoming the best athlete in the world is a continual development process. What better place to gain experience than here!

Onward to the long program and another day of exciting women's figure skating.

P.S. Snagged tickets to the USA vs. Switzerland men's hockey game in between Rachael's practice sessions. USA won 2-0 and it was the third non-skating event that I attended at the Games. This is more than I expected!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Now I know why my favorite TV show, The X-Files, was filmed in Vancouver. The cloudy and rainy weather that served as the background for much of the action is once again upon us. I joked to Rachael that she would bring the sunshine back today. She smiled. So far, it's business as usual. She was very organized in her 35-minute warm up with music and she will compete in 6 hours. Here comes the sun, da-da dada, here comes the sun....

Monday, February 22, 2010


With all of my entries describing how different things are at the Olympics, tomorrow will be about Rachael and I sticking to her success formula and keeping things the same.

Before I returned to Vancouver, I asked my five-year old son, Dylan, if he knew what the Olympic Games were. He said no. I also asked my seven-year old daughter, Madison, if she knew what they were. She said yes. I asked her to tell me. She said, "It's the biggest competition in the world." She is right.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


After being here amidst all of the excitement with all of the US athletes doing so well in so many sports, Rachael and I are ready to go. The draw for the ladies short program was this morning and Rachael drew 28th out of 30 women. So she will skate third in the last warm up group of five skaters.

The practice groups are now arranged according to the draw and no longer by nation so Rachael and Mirai will no longer practice together (since Mirai's ISU ranking is lower she will skate in an earlier group). It has been a lot of fun for both Frank and I to be around these two bubbly teenage girls. Our bus rides have been an eye opener and mostly full of giggles. And while Rachael and Mirai couldn't be more different, they both have a lot in common.

Earlier today, Rachael and I were both saddened to learn that 2009 Canadian World Silver Medalist Joannie Rochette's mother, Therese, 55, died of a heart attack last night shortly after she and her husband arrived in Vancouver. Our thoughts and prayers are with Joannie and her family. When something like that happens at an Olympic Games it really makes you appreciate what you have in your life, but also begs the question, "What would I do if I was in that situation as an athlete and a coach?" So, as a coach, I would support my athlete in whatever decision he or she would make. We have heard that Joannie will compete and I am sure that is what her mother would have wanted.

Walking through the mix zone with Rachael, I was surprised that the reporters asked her how she felt about the situation with Joannie. Frank and I both learned about what happened minutes before the US ladies practice started and we both independently decided not to talk to both girls about it until after the practice. Needless to say, when the reporters explained what happened to Rachael she was shocked and saddened. I could only think how disrespectful this was to both Joannie's family and Rachael.

On a brighter note, the IOC has organized the first ever youth Olympics in order to encourage young people around the world to participate in sport. The games will be held in Singapore in August and feature 3,600 youth athletes between the ages of 15-18 participating in summer sports. The first winter edition of this new IOC program will be held in Innsbruck, Austria in 2012. In addition to the athletes, the program will also involve young ambassadors and reporters from over 205 nations. Way to go, IOC!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


If you have been reading my blog, I want you to know that I just now found some time to respond to the various comments on each entry. Keep them coming. I really enjoy the feedback.

Answer to the question of the day: There are four mascots. There names are Miga, Quatchi, Sumi and Mukmuk. You can google Vancouver 2010 Olympic Mascots to find out more information about them and watch some cool animated videos. Share them with your children. They will love them.

Question of the day: Which of my all-time favorite television shows used to be filmed in Vancouver?


Rachael's first day on Olympic ice was great. She was the first to skate her program so she only had 6 minutes to adjust to the ice and the surroundings and do her warm up. She skated a clean short with all her levels and looked relaxed and focused. I was impressed but not surprised she showed great poise. After the practice, she said she got goose bumps when she skated over the Olympic rings, which were painted underneath at center ice.

For me, it's quite special that I am here with Rachael, a female athlete, since the Vancouver Olympics is setting records for women's participation. Slightly more than 40 percent of the athletes here are women and that percentage is a new record. That means out of the 2,631 athletes, 1,066 are women. Another record that was set at this games is that 25 women (out of 82 nations attending the Olympics) carried the flag and led their athletes' delegations. Women are also part of some of the delegations from the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan and Peru, which are all nations participating in the winter Olympics for the first time.

That said, women ski jumpers were not allowed to participate in these Olympics because their competition standard was not high enough to award a medal, according to the IOC. They have taken the IOC to court (the International Court of Sport Arbitration) and are suing for the right to participate. Perhaps it will happen for them in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

In a couple of hours, I will attend my second, non-skating event at the games. As an athlete, Rachael got tickets to see Apollo Ohno and the women's short track 1500m later tonight. She has decided to stay in the village and rest and work on her senior paper and other homework. In case you are wondering, she could not offer these tickets to her parents because this class of ticket requires that the user also present a credential when they enter the venue. Since her parents do not have credentials, they could not use them. This procedure is different from the tickets Rachael's father and I used last week when we attended the women's long track 3000m race at the Richmond oval.


The weather in Vancouver is so warm and sunny that many of the locals are saying it is fitting for the summer -- not winter Olympics. The pale, blue Vancouver skyline with the snow-capped peaks of the mountains as a backdrop is truly breathtaking.

With this kind of weather, it's hard to believe that the red, Canadian Olympic team mittens that Oprah Winfrey featured on her show are such a big hit that they have totally sold out. My wife is one of the women who are obsessed with having a pair so Frank and I went to the Olympic store to look for them. No such luck (although they had plenty of other things in the store, including get this -- condoms!). The salesperson said they had received a couple of shipments of the mittens already and each time they sold out. She was doubtful they would receive anymore. She jokingly offered to sell me her pair and said she hadn't worn them yet, but when I said I would buy them she changed her mind.

The other hot apparel item is the Ralph Lauren Polo cap from the US Olympic team opening ceremonies outfit. Frank told me that it is selling for $700 on e-bay. I have one of those. Are there any bidders out there?

Friday, February 19, 2010


Rachael and I boarded our plane back to Vancouver on the same itinerary as we did last week. We were on the plane with the US and French ski teams that were heading to Whistler for their events. The US ski team had been training in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Even though we did not know the teams (we were easily identified by our Olympic gear), our casual interactions and shared stories of our Olympic experience so far lightened our day.

Once we arrived it was easy to get back to the village since we had our credentials and the USOC had our transportation waiting for us. Frank was in the room when I arrived and it was very exciting to talk shop with him about how he helped Evan through his big Olympic moment. As I said in my blog, Frank received his first Olympic medal, the Order of Ikkos, named after Ikkos of Tarentum, the first Olympic coach of record from ancient Greece. So cool.

We are now off the dinner at the USA sponsor house and we'll be in bed early as Rachael has her first official practice at 7:50 am. Given that schedule we will not be able to watch the US ice dancers tonight, but our thoughts and best wishes are with them. GO TEAM USA!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Congrats to Evan Lysacek who won the Olympic Men's title for the United States. GO TEAM USA!. He truly deserved it! I am so happy for my colleague and friend Frank Carroll who has coached his first Olympic Champion of his career. He achieved this in his 10th Olympics. Plushenko's effort was admirable but not as smooth. Daisuke Takahashi also skated a very good program. So the silver medalist did the quad and the bronze medalist attempted the quad as in previous Olympics, but the gold medalist really didn't need to. I said may the best man win and Evan was the best man!


After speaking with my wife and getting a long e-mail from my mother-in-law, it occurred to me that my audience for this blog is larger than the 6,000 coaches of the Professional Skaters Association and may have questions about what makes a man choose to attempt the quad. If I were writing a research paper, this is where I would insert a footnote so that the reader had a more detailed understanding of the facts.

So here's a little background:

In 2002, when Plushenko was 19, he attempted the quad toe in the short program and fell on it (by today's standards it would have been downgraded) and he ended up in 4th place after the short program. Back then, the judges used a base mark to reward risk. If a skater tried a quad and missed, the judges took the deduction from the higher base mark before assigning the technical score. That does not happen anymore in figure skating. Plushenko ended up with the silver medal at that Olympics.

If Plushenko had fallen on Tuesday, he would have lost 15.8 technical points (plus an undetermined number of component points due to the fall). If you subtract just those technical points from his score, it would have totaled 75.05 and that would have placed him 12th, out of medal contention.

Last year the three men (Abbott, Mroz and Bradley) I coached all had different strategies with regards to the quad when they competed. Even though Jeremy landed his quad toe in his short and long programs the year before at the World Championships (and placed 11th due to other mistakes), I decided he would not risk it the following season in order for him to gain confidence in his second year in the senior grand prix. This proved to be a good decision for him as he ended up winning Cup of China, the Grand Prix final and his first national title without it. Even though he did not do the quad in those competitions, he continued to train it all year. In April after worlds, he successfully completed the quad toe in the long program at the World Team Trophy.

If you follow the comments of all of the male figure skaters in the press, everyone of them will tell you when you add the quad to the long program it changes (in a very big way) the mental demands of the program. This is especially true in the new judging system because skaters can no longer "rest" during footwork or spins. In the short program, it is even more of a risk because there are fewer total elements to the program and the rules about the contents of the program do not allow the skater to make up lost points on the other jumping passes or change their program in other ways.

I would never question a skater or coach's choice to include a quad in either the program, but I do have tremendous admiration for Plushenko because he trained the quad to do it in both programs not only in Vancouver at 27, but also in 2006 in Torino when he was 23.

Since 1994, every Men's Olympic Champion has completed the quad to win the title as have the silver medalists. With the exception of one year, the bronze medalists have all attempted one quad or done it flawed (with the exception of Tim Goebel, who completed 4 quads: one in the short program and 3 in the long program in 2002 to win the bronze medal).

Last I checked the Olympic motto was faster, higher, stronger....not risk-freeer, safer, lesser. When you add the suffix "er" to a word it means "more." If a man wins the Olympic figure skating title without a quad will our sport be advancing in the spirit of the Olympics?

So those are the facts. You have read them and have a chance to form your own opinion before tonight's long program.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Today was a normal training day for Rachael and I. One more day before we head back to Vancouver. All is well in Colorado Springs.

To those who wrote comments critcizing me about my blog yesterday, you obviously do not know me. I was not trash talking Jeremy or Evan. In fact, if you read my blog from the previous day I was and am rooting for Jeremy, Evan and Patrick (none of who do the quad in the short program) in that order to win the Olympic gold medal. I also do not think figure skating is all about the quad. However, I think I speak for a lot of coaches in the sport who can admire the risk Plushenko took (the results show what happened to Brian Joubert and Tomas Verner who took the same risk and failed) and recognize his achievement (he also skated with the flu) regardless of whether or not I am rooting for him to win the gold medal. What I have learned in my 21 years of coaching is that an issue is never black and white so I feel it is best to be honest and express all of my opinions and not be limited to having just one opinion about our very complex sport and its judging system.

I also was acknowledging the risk that Ryan Bradley and Brandon Mroz, two of the men I coach, took throughout the season.

And the last time I checked Jeremy landed the quad toe in both his short program and long program at his first World Championship and a total of 4 times in major competitions while I was coaching him and at least 6 more times during non-qualifying competitions. He also has landed his first quad salchow at a non-qualifying competition while I was coaching him. If you are going to post comments about the content of my blog, please get the facts straight.

Best of luck to all of the competitors but especially the three US men in the long program and may the best man win!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


For me as a coach, if a skater can do a jump in competition, then they should risk it in the short program. That is why Evgeni Plushenko is a real man. I probably lost one of my best skaters by saying this, but I believe in my heart as a coach who wants to coach a male Olympic champion that it is true. The quad is not a risk for Plushenko because he trains it. I know firsthand because when Ann Patrice McDonough was competing I would watch and study Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin on practice sessions. They both did the quad toe effortlessly. So it is no surprise that Plushenko was the only man who risked it and did a clean short program. This is his second time that he skated a clean short with a quad in the Olympics (he risked it and failed the first time in 2002).

That said, I would like to acknowledge Ryan Bradley, my veteran star who landed the quad combination three times this season in his short program and Brandon Mroz, my young charge who at 19 completed his quad combo in his short program twice this season. Way to go, men! I am proud of your risk taking mindset!

Ask Erik Schultz and Becky Calvin and many of the skaters at the CSWA. I predicted three of the top four places of the men's short program by watching one practice in Vancouver. I said Plushenko would win, followed by Evan Lysacek and Nobunari Oda. I had Chan in the top 4 (he finished 7th). As Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do...

One cool thing about this Olympics is that it is as green as it can be. Coca Cola, one of the major sponsors, is recycling 100% of the plastic bottles and will build an outdoor facility with the recycled bottles that will support active living in Vancouver's inner city, which happens to be where the Olympic village is located.

The second cool thing about this Olympics is that students from the province of British Columbia wrote good luck cards to all of the athletes (and referenced their specific sports) from all over the world. They are hanging on the walls on every floor of every condo in the Olympic village.

Question of the day: How many mascots are there for this Olympic Games?

Answer to the question of the day: There are two Olympic villages: one in Vancouver and one in Whistler.

Monday, February 15, 2010


My entry today is late because Rachael and I were up at 5:30 am so that she could skate two sessions before we headed back to Colorado Springs to train for the rest of the week. It is just like Rachael to have a late night practice (where her mentor Dorothy Hamill came by for a visit), be short on sleep and then get up the next morning and skate two clean programs. That is what she did today. Lori Nichol, who is attending as a coach for Patrick Chan, dropped by practice yesterday morning to work with both Rachael and Mirai.

In case you are wondering, it is very common for the ladies of figure skating to either miss the opening ceremonies and arrive later or come for the opening ceremonies and train at another location outside the Olympic venue no matter which country they represent. Tara Lipinski did this in Nagano in 1998 when she left to train in Osaka. Sarah Hughes did this in Salt Lake City in 2002 when she left to train in Colorado Springs. This was part of our plan and we are now home only because Colorado is a two-hour flight from Vancouver.

After practice, Rachael and I along with two other members of Team USA learned a bit about curling from a local instructor at the rink where we were practicing. We got to throw the 44 pound stone a couple of times and sweep the ice to make it go. It really was quite fascinating. Even though it looks like it is not much of a sport, I can testify otherwise. The instructor said that we would be using muscles that we haven't used before and he was right. The inside of my calves and lower abdomen are very sore this morning. That said, our experience yesterday fits in with both of my philosophies of learning something new everyday and having fun and creating memories every time we participate in competitions.

The Olympic Village is the place to see the famous athletes. Shaun White is one of the most popular and easily recognizable and several of the skaters have seen and eaten with him. Vice President Joe Biden is here and Rachael was one of the athletes who got to meet him. By the way, coaches are not allowed to attend certain functions and that was one of them, however, the entire US Olympic Team will be invited to the White House soon after the Olympics and I am sure I will attend so all hope is not lost on meeting the vice president.

Today on our way home k.d. lang was in the the Air Canada lounge. I said hello and thanked her for making the opening ceremonies so special. She was gracious. I was a big fan of hers in the late eighties when she was very popluar. After that, a few minutes later while we were waiting to board our flight to Denver, Rachael, her mom and I sat with 2008 Summer Olympic Gymnastics Champion Shawn Johnson, her dad and her agent. Shawn and Rachael have done several shows together and know each other.

Even though I am not in Vancouver for the next few days, I have gathered information for several blog entries before I head back to the Games, so stay tuned!

Question of the Day: Is there more than one Olympic village?

Answer to the question of the day: Lori Nichol choreographs for 8 skaters at the Olympic Games: US Champion Rachael Flatt, Mirai Nagasu, and 2009 World Champion Evan Lysacek, Canadians and both World Silver Medalists Joannie Rochette and Patrick Chan, Carolina Kostner from Italy and Tomas Verner from the Czech Republic and the 2010 Olympic Pairs Champions Shen and Zhao from China.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Today was another work day for Rachael and I. Her first practice was once again at the unofficial rink. She will not be on official ice until Saturday, Feb. 20 after we get back to Vancouver.

After each practice session the skaters are required to spend time in what is called "the mix zone" talking to the press. If a skater does not want to talk to the media, then the coach lets Scottie Bibb from USFS know and she lets the media know. Striking the balance in this area is key and requires cooperation for the skater, coach, parent and agent. Aside from the mandatory first press conference, the only other press conferences take place after the short and long programs.

I went to my first non-figure skating event today. Rachael and I went to the Proctor and Gamble house (which is where the sponsors and guests of the sponsors meet and entertain the athletes, parents, coaches and their guests in order to promote their products at the Olympics) to meet up with her parents. When we got there, we had to go through security and check in before we received a tour. While we were getting a tour, we were offered tickets to the Women's 3000m Long Track Speed Skating event. Rachael's dad and I used the tickets and had a lot of fun taking the train to Richmond and figuring it all out.

After that excursion, I watched part of the pair's short program with Frank, Lori Nichol and Christy Krall before heading off the Rachael's second practice. Now it is time to pack before we head back to Colorado Springs tomorrow afternoon.

Question of the day: How many skaters does Canadian Lori Nichol choreograph for who are competing in Vancouver?

Answer to the question of the day: Besides Vancouver, events are being held in Whistler, Cypress and Richmond.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I spent an hour in the morning in the food tent visiting with many of my coaching friends from all over the world sharing congratulations about being here and talking about the opening ceremonies. After that, Rachael and I got back to work. She had her first practice session on unofficial ice. She was relaxed and focused after being short on sleep due to attending the entire opening ceremonies (This year for the first time athletes were allowed to leave the stadium after they marched in, however, Rachael chose to stay). When we arrived at the rink, seeing so many familiar faces (officials, athletes and coaches) made it easier to zone in and just do our job. That is one of the biggest differences between a world championship and the Olympics. At an Olympics you see and interact with so many other people besides the one's from your sport.

After practice we went straight to a very intense, longer than normal, press conference in downtown Vancouver. While we drove to the location of the press conference, Rachael and I talked a lot about yesterday because arriving at the Olympic village and participating in the opening ceremonies for the first time are very powerful experiences.

Security at the Olympic Games is very tight. VANOC has employed 15,000 personnel for this purpose (5,000 Canadian mounties, 5,000 soldiers from various countries and 5,000 independent security guards). Frank told me that by the end of the two weeks everyone gets sick of it, but it is a necessity. The US State Department had two security officers at the unofficial practice rink today. They were friendly and supportive and obviously watchful. It was kind of weird knowing our van was under surveillance as we were transported to and from the rink. Mitch told me these precautions have been in effect since the tragedy of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

Incidentally, security works like this: our van pulls up to a check point so that police officers can look under the van (using mirrors attached to a long pole) for explosive devices while we are carrying on somewhat of a conversation through the process. They verify who is in the van by talking to the driver and looking inside at us. We tell them which country we are from and what sport we are participating in. Then we proceed to the drop off point that is further down the road.

As coaches, we are educated that security and media at an Olympic Games can be a distraction to the athlete. Already, I can tell a difference, but once Rachael and I get inside the rink everything seems to be business as usual. After all, we are here for one reason: Rachael has goals to achieve.

I ate a late dinner with Jeremy Abbott, Charlie White, Mitch Moyer, Frank Carroll and Yuka Sato. One reporter at the press conference asked me about what it's like knowing that Jeremy is here with Yuka. I answered truthfully that I have more positive feelings for Jeremy than anything else. If I had to root for an American man to win the Olympics it would be Jeremy first, Evan second and Patrick Chan third. The reasons are obvious. As his former coach, I want him to achieve the goals we were working for even if that means he had to move on from working with me. As a good friend of Frank, who has mentored me in my career, I would love to see him coach Evan to an Olympic title and finally get the Olympic champion his career deserves. And finally, since Patrick has been training at our rink for the past 10 weeks I have seen firsthand how committed he is to our sport. He is a role model for the podium. So for me, it is kind of like picking New Orleans over Indianapolis in the Super Bowl and wishing that the Denver Broncos would have had a slightly better season so they could have been contenders for the title. I was rooting for all three teams for different reasons.

Question of the Day: How many locations besides Vancouver are home to the events of the Olympic Games?

Answer to the question of the day: The ratio of press to athletes is 2 to 1. That means there are two reporters for every athlete. At the Games, there are approximately 5,500 athletes and 10,000 media personnel

Friday, February 12, 2010


Today has been the most incredible day. I started bright and early with a 6:30 am workout in the hotel fitness center. Rachael and I had breakfast with Evan Lysacek and then he went off to practice and we went on to the Olympic village by private van. Our driver, Mike Cunningham, took us on a tour of downtown and we saw thousands of people lined up on the street trying to catch a glimpse of the torch passing through. They were smiling and waving and cheering. Excitement was in the air for sure! The special driving lanes for the official transportation vehicles of the Olympic Games made our van ride somewhat easier.

Once we arrived at the village it was just like going through airport security except everyone that helped us through the orientation was so friendly. Many people recognized Rachael as we were getting acquainted with the village and they wished her luck. Such is the spirit of the Olympics that the local Canadian volunteers would be wishing her well when their home country favorite Joannie Rochette is one of Rachael's main competitors.

Our assistant team leader Richard Dalley gave us a quick tour of the village. There was lots of oohing and aahing from Rachael. In fact, sharing this exciting experience with Rachael has been nothing but enjoyable.

I am sharing a two bedroom condo with Frank Carroll, Jim Peterson and Lyndon Johnston. We, too, have already shared many laughs. From everything I have been told by Frank (who has been to nine previous Olympics) and Igor Shpilband (who has been to three) the coaches are getting a major upgrade in the gear we received yesterday and how we are being treated. In 2006, coaches stayed in the village for the first time, but the housing was marginal. This time, the housing is luxury condos. Both Frank and Igor will also be the first two US figure skating coaches to ever walk in the opening ceremonies. They were chosen because they both have coached Olympic medalists. I bumped into Priscilla Hill in the food tent, who is coaching here for Austria, and she gets to walk, too. So does Marina Zueva, who is registered as a coach for Canada, as well as Walter Rizzo, my coaching friend from Italy. Igor tells me all of the coaches from Russia get to walk, too. What I learned very quickly is that when you represent the US as a coach, walking in the opening ceremonies is a privilege you earn.

If you watched the opening ceremonies on TV, I am sure you were as impressed as I was. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I was fortunate that I got to sit next to Rachael's parents and enjoy this special moment with them. Galina Zmievskaya (who has been to five previous Olympics) said she would finally get to enjoy her first opening ceremonies as a spectator because the walking part is not that much fun since it is usually very cold and you stand around for about 3 hours. It just goes to show you that there can be a positive outlook to every situation. Besides Jim, Lyndon and Galina, Yaroslava Nechchaeva and Yuri Chesnichenko, the coaches of Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, also enjoyed the opening ceremonies with us from the stands.

Fun fact of the day: McDonald's is one of the official sponsors of the Olympics and there is a McDonald's restaurant in the food tent. They have a special triple axel sauce to go along with the chicken nuggets. (It is actually the spicy szechwan sauce renamed as a marketing ploy.) Have your skaters check it out if they need some help learning a triple axel. It just might help! LOL jk

Question of the Day: What is the press to athlete ratio for this Olympic Games?

Answer to the Question of the Day: This was the first opening ceremony that was held indoors. This proved to be a good decision since it was raining outside.

P.S. The death of 21 year-old luger Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia reminds us all that participating in any sport is a risk and not something we should ever take for granted. It was fitting that the opening ceremony was dedicated to him. Incidentally, he is only the fourth Olympic athlete to ever die at an Olympic Games. The other three also died during training. No athlete has ever died while competing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I have to confess to feeling like Santa Claus was coming today when I went to bed last night. Not surprisingly, I didn't sleep so soundly due to the excitement of the impending moment. After less than 5 hours of sleep, I was up at 5 am to work with Rachael for some light training before we boarded our first flight at 9:30 am.

Both flights were uneventful. We arrived on time and amazingly were processed very quickly at the airport. There were special custom lanes for all of the Olympic athletes and coaches. Immediately, I could feel the international flavor of the Games. There were people from many foreign countries waiting in the custom and processing lines with their own nation's Olympic gear already on. Translators were also present at the place where we received our credentials. Surprisingly, we were greeted by USOC personnel immediately as we left customs. They knew each and everyone of our names and welcomed us with open arms, congratulations and lots of smiles. There are many familiar faces here from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, too. That has made me feel right at home. So far, just being here with all of the other people is really cool and we haven't even arrived at the village yet. That will happen tomorrow morning at 9 am.

The highlight of today was definitely the apparel distribution. And yes, it was exactly how they explained it. After we tried on clothes, they were placed in a laundry bin with four dividers that was the size of a shopping cart. After we finished the stations for Nike and Polo Ralph Lauren we proceeded to a check out line where all of our gear was scanned and packed into suitcases. All of the coaches were given two suitcases full of gear. The athletes got three suitcases full! And yes, they gave us Olympic suitcases, too!! My favorite station was the one where we selected our Olympic watch and ring.

I felt a little disappointed for Rachael, Mirai, Meryl and Emily because they are all very petite young ladies but because we were the very last group of the entire US Olympic Team to be processed were given the leftover sizes for some of the gear. The sizes turned out to be x-large and xx-large, too big to be easily altered or even to give to their fathers. They took all of the over-sized stuff anyway with huge smiles on their faces!

Whoever coordinated this schedule knows exactly what to do because everything has been planned out so well. Our waiting time has been minimal even though we were prepared to wait a lot longer to get through the process. Actually, since arriving at 1:30 pm we have been going non-stop with just a few short breaks up until 9:00 pm. We managed to have a quick working lunch during which Mitch Moyer filled us in on some logistical details. After dinner, we finished phase three of the Olympic Ambassador program with athletes and coaches from snowboarding and long track speed skating. President Obama taped a video message to all of us that was very inspirational. Olympic Gold Medalists Vanetta Flowers (bobsled) and Picabo Street (downhill) appeared in person to talk to us and get us fired up! Their speeches were very honest and heartfelt.

Now it's time to go to bed. I hope I can sleep more tonight. I will try to dream about the opening ceremonies...

Answer to the question of the day: Yes. Coaches from the United States who coach an athlete or team to the podium receive the Order of Ikkos medallion, name after Ikkos of Tarentum, the first recorded Olympic coach. They can receive more than one if they coach more than one athlete to the podium. The athlete presents their coach with the medallion at the USA House immediately following the athlete's medal award ceremony.

Question of the day: What will be unique about tomorrow's opening ceremonies that has never occurred before in the history of the Olympic Games?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It's the night before I leave for Vancouver and I have just finished getting a massage and watching American Idol. Rachael and I are very excited and we have been talking about all of the different aspects of sharing this adventure each day this week. Her parents, Jody and Jim, sent my wife, Susan, a beautiful arrangement of flowers thanking her for her patience all these years.

Incidentally, packing for the Olympics is easier than you might think. First of all, we have been told we will get a lot of gear and we will even get a suitcase to pack it all in. Since I am fairly sure I will be wearing all my gear once I get there, I have decided that I do not need to bring that much with me. I may even sleep in some of it! Secondly, Rachael and I are going only for 4 nights before we head back to Colorado Springs. The real packing will come when we return for the second time and I will have to pack more formal clothes.

The subject of today's blog is the answer to the question of the day from yesterday. Ikkos of Tarentum is the first recorded Olympic coach in ancient Greece. Ikkos won the pentathlon at the 84th Olympiad in 444 B.C. and later became known for his coaching ability as he led two fellow Tarentine athletes to gold in the same event. Pretty cool, eh!

So, to all my colleagues out there...this blog is for you. I also want to recognize all the figure skating coaches who have taught me everything I ever learned about figure skating. I have seen and/or stayed in touch with many of them through the years and it is very rewarding. If this blog inspires you to contact one of your former coaches, go for it! They would love to hear from you. Here are mine:

Betty Bosell -Miss Betty was my first learn to skate teacher at the Dan Kostel Recreation Center in Garfield Heights where I began to skate and she shared her love of skating with me. She also chose me to be the gingerbread boy for my first solo in the annual ice show.

Phil Racine-Phil was my first official coach. He meant everything to me and when he left to coach in Canada after five years under his wing, I was crushed. He took me to my first competition in Lansing, MI, taught me my axel, all my doubles and my triple salchow. I still keep in touch with him to this day. Hi, Phil!

I tried several coaches after Phil. I guess I had a hard time finding the right fit. I learned many things from all of them. He are just a few tidbits:

Ginny Luttenton-She taught me how to close my mohawk on the swing dance and that failing your first figure test isn't so bad.
Dick Rimmer-He turned me onto the history of our sport by showing me videos of past champions and introduced me to Sam Hill.
Johnny Johns-He toughened me up when I was 16 and had moved away from home for the first time to train in Detroit.
Terry Viviani-He taught me the art of laying out figures in competition.
Sherry Kilmer Marvin-She taught me how to actually do clean rockers and counters as well as how to hit the top of a jump.
David and Rita Lowery-They both got me interested in music and costuming and presenting a package to the judges. I also slept on the bunk beds in their laundry room. Boy, if that doesn't make you homesick!
Nina Stark Slapnik-She taught me the mental aspect of performing and how to get into a zone in order to compete.

Finally, there was Norma Sahlin. She and her husband, Wally, were a huge influence in my life. When I was a young skater, I idolized Charlie Tickner. I thought he was both graceful and masculine when he skated and not only could he could do a huge triple lutz, but he could also do a death spiral without a partner! Naturally, I wanted to take lessons from his coach. That is how I found Norma. Anyone who knows Norma knows what a great teacher she was. She prided herself on teaching the average skaters how to do clean double axels. She taught me how to be consistent, how to train properly, how to control my mind and my emotions. There are so many times in my coaching that I am reminded of things she said that are true even in this day and age. She is one of the reasons that I went back to school to get my master's degree. She was a life-long learner. Not too long before she died I asked her if I would ever reach my goal of coaching at the Olympic Games. She said without hesitation, "Of course you will, Tom." She was right about so many things over the course of the seven years that she guided my skating. And she was right about that, too.

Question of the Day: Do coaches receive medals at the Olympic Games if there athletes win medals?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I am two days away from leaving for Vancouver so I thought I might share some planning details that may be interesting or even surprising to you.

After Rachael was officially named to the United States Olympic Team at the US National Championships in Spokane at about 11 pm on Saturday night, Rachael and I and her parents attended planning meetings the following morning at 7:30 am. (Not much time to celebrate.) We were presented with a 64-page booklet of information to review that covered everything from scheduling, team processing, transportation, anti-doping rules for athletes while at the Games, detailed maps of the Olympic Village and blueprints for the rooms where Rachael and I are staying in the village. (Most of the chaperones, including her parents, are staying in private residences in the surrounding areas.)

Only one primary coach can be credentialed at the Olympic Games. Secondary coaches can attend at their own expense but are restricted to the same access as chaperones.

Rachael and I were told the day and time of our travel. We didn't get to choose flights or arrival days. As you might imagine the International Olympic Committee (IOC) working with the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) sets up a schedule of how and when each nation's athletes are processed.

The process of registering at the Games takes about 24 hours. When we arrive in Vancouver we will be escorted to a hotel where we will be put through various stations and spend the night. In June of 2009 at the Champs Camp in Colorado Springs, US Figure Skating created a long list of athletes and coaches that could potentially qualify for the Olympic Games. We were all required to pre-register at a computer station. This amounted to filling out 20-30 minutes of very detailed on-line forms, including providing very specific photo identification. This was done in advance so at our US Nationals the long list could be immediately shortened. This pre-planning eliminated a lot of work once we knew we were actually on the team.

One of the stations at the hotel that we will all be looking forward to will be apparel distribution. That is where we will get all the cool gear. Believe it or not, we are encouraged to wear bathing suits so that we can try on our clothes quickly since there are no changing rooms. We will also each have a shopping cart as we pass through this station. Representatives from Polo Ralph Lauren will provide alterations services and demonstrate appropriate use/wear of certain items.

In order to participate in the Games, the USOC requires coaches and athletes to attend the US Olympic Ambassador Program. While in Spokane for nationals, we attended a four-hour workshop on Sunday night after the exhibition. When we arrive in Vancouver, we will attend another two-hour phase of the OAP program. The information ranges from what it means to be an Olympian, to our roles as ambassadors for the US to podium preparedness.

If an athlete's parent wants to visit the Olympic village, they must apply before 4 pm on the previous day for a guest pass which involves a security backgroud check. Since there are a limited number of guest passes for the entire US delegation for the duration of the Games, access is not guaranteed.

All coaches were required to submit a training plan for their athletes which included how many sessions, which rinks they would train at (there are two in addition to the competition arena) as well as details of their days off to Mitch Moyer at US Figure Skating.

Incidentally, when you are coaching at an Olympic Games you and your athlete have the right to train at unofficial locations after your register provided that your event is not actually underway. The Olympic practice ice rule is different from the International Skating Union (ISU) rule that forbids you and your athlete from doing that at any international competition. In this way, the rules regarding practice ice at the Olympic Games are the same as our rules at our national championships. With that said, since we have a President's Day Hockey Tournament in Colorado Springs, Rachael and I are flying in for the Opening Ceremonies and staying until Monday in order for her to maintain her training. (The only ice time that would be available for her to train on would be after 11 pm and before 7 am.) We will then return the Colorado Springs for training before we head back to Vancouver for the last week of the Olympics and the ladies event.

Even though this sounds very different from what we experience at a normal National or World Championship, US Figure Skating prepared us for most of these guidelines in June of 2009. This is the 3rd time we have been presented with this information. So in one sense, it seems quite reassuring while at the same time being totally new!

Answer to the Question of the Day: The five Olympic rings stand for the five continents (North America and South America, Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa) that are home to the nations participating in the Olympic Games.

Question of the Day: Who is Ikkos of Tarentum?

Sunday, February 7, 2010


You might be wondering how I think I became an Olympic coach. The first thing I want you to know is that it took 21 years of coaching. While some coaches can inherit skaters already at the top of the sport, I am not that type of coach at this point in my career. I have had to prove myself within the industry. I think this is a key ingredient to being successful. The desire to show people what I can do motivates me everyday.

I have done several interviews since nationals that have made me reflect on how Rachael and I got to this point. I spoke with her this morning about several key issues, but before I list what I feel are the 3 most important points, I can also tell you that getting to the Olympics as a coach has nothing to do with hoping or being lucky. Reaching the goal of being part of an Olympic team is achieved by careful, detailed planning in many areas.

These are what I consider to be key ingredients:

1. TALENT/WORK RATIO OF YOU AND YOUR ATHLETE: No coach can get to the Olympic Games without a talented athlete who is willing to work hard and vice versa. Rachael and I spoke about this to try to quantify just how much talent was needed without having too much. We came up with a 90-10 ratio, meaning you want to have 10 percent of your efforts come from talent but the other 90 percent to come from good, old-fashioned hard work. This is because the closer you get to being the best in the country or the world, the more you find yourself competing with equally as talented or more talented coaches or athletes. If you or your athlete is too talented you will usually become easily frustrated when you really have to work for something and this may lead you to choose to give up when the going gets tough.

2. EDUCATION: I think what helped my coaching the most was going back to school and studying sports/physical education. I received my Bachelor of Arts in English and Mass Communications from the University of Denver in 1988, and then I received my Master of Science-Exercise Science from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs in 2001. Understanding exactly how to create a periodization plan that works for your athlete is important. My master's degree has helped me immensely in this area. Figure skating is a repetition sport and if your athlete cannot do the reps necessary for proper muscle memory without a major injury he/she will not achieve the highest level. In addition to my higher education, I try to make the best use of my resources at US Figure Skating, the Professional Skaters Association, the United States Olympic Committee and the Ice Skating Institute. If I do not know the answer to a question, I ask someone or do research until I find the answer. If I cannot fix a problem, I try to think outside the box and consult with experts outside our sport. I think the process of wanting to understand something and wanting to be as sure of the results or outcome as you possibly can leads you on a path toward excellence. I also look to all areas of life for inspiration because I think that sport mirrors life. I find inspiration in other sports, in the music and film industry, higher education and the business world. Ryan Bradley, who I have coached my entire career, says that I can find inspiration in just about anything and he is probably right!

3. COMMITMENT: I choose to work very long hours each day because as Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act of will. It is a habit." The more you coach the better you will get at it. Unfortunately, in the process of making commitments to our athletes we sacrifice part of ourselves as well as time spent with our significant others and family members. This is a huge part of getting to the Olympic Games. Even if you strive for balance in life as we all do, you will find that life is made up of tough decisions between two important values that are in conflict with each other such as family time vs. coaching time. You must make sacrifices to coach at the Olympic Games. You have to love figure skating and you have to spread that love to the skaters and parents you will be developing as you put in the long hours that it takes to get to the top.

Finally, no coach does it entirely alone anymore. The PSA has a motto this year that I have embraced for many years: teamwork makes the dreamwork. I see my job as the primary coach of Rachael Flatt's figure skating like that of a director on the set of a movie. Even though many people help in the process of making the movie, one person must be accountable and responsible for the final product. For a primary coach this means letting the choreographer or strength coach know how you want it done while allowing them to do their job. Making sure whoever is part of your team is loyal to your values and vision for the athlete is not easily done in our industry, so take time to build trust with your athletes, their parents and the coaches you choose to work with. Except for the athlete's parents, you know the athlete the best especially if you have worked with them for a long period of time. Think Linda Leaver and Brian Boitano. Think Christy Ness and Kristi Yamaguchi. Cultivate long lasting relationships with your athletes and those coaches on your team and this will help you reach the top.

Answer to the question of the day: The colors of the 5 Olympic rings (red, blue, yellow, green and black) represent the common colors that are found on every nation's flag that participate in the Olympic Games.

Question of the day: Why are there five rings in the Olympic flag?

Finally, I would like to add Olympic Champion Carol Heiss Jenkins to the list of coaches I have learned from who have presented at the PSA Conference. I thought about something she said today while I was coaching and remembered that I did not include her in my first blog. So Carol if you are reading this, you get a special shout out today:)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Hello PSA coaches! In less than one week I will be on my way with my athlete Rachael Flatt to coach at my first Olympic Games. In Spokane, I met with PSA Executive Director Jimmie Santee and PSA President Kelly Morris Adair to suggest writing a blog about what it's like to be a first-time coach at the Olympics. I thought it would be a great way for me to give back to the organization and its members that have helped me get to this point in my career. There are lots of restrictions to blogging while in Vancouver. For example, I cannot use the words "Olympic" or "Olympic Games" in the title, publish any results before broadcast or publish moving video of any athletes competing in their venues. That said, I will do my best to give you firsthand knowledge about what it's like to coach at the ultimate of competitions.

Since Nationals, Rachael and I got back to work almost immediately as there were less than 4 weeks to the Games. Obviously, we are working on everything that we felt needed improvement. We know there is somewhat of a difference in scoring at every country's national championships compared with the ISU level and we want to be ready for the ultimate test of quality. Lori Nichol came out to Colorado Springs for a few days of touch up on both programs. It seems like the main push right now ties in with the Olympic motto: (Swifter) Faster, Higher, Stronger or Citius, Altius, Fortius, if you prefer the Latin.

In each blog, I will ask a question of the day related to Olympic trivia. The answer will be in the next day's blog. Question of the Day: What is the significance of the colors of all 5 Olympic rings?

Having reached this milestone in my coaching career after 21 years, I can tell you it feels very rewarding but at the same time there has been no time to celebrate. So I guess I would say that even though all the hard work (nearly 10 years with Rachael) has paid off, I realized very quickly that nothing has really changed. I am still doing the same job for Rachael and all of my other athletes: helping them achieve their goals as they continue along their figure skating journey.

One thing I will say about achieving this milestone is that I received numerous texts, voicemails and e-mails from friends in skating and grade school, high school and college that I haven't heard from in years. This support has been incredible and shows me that when you make an Olympic Team the biggest difference is that more people pay attention.

I feel so grateful to the PSA for providing me all of the educational opportunities that have helped me achieve my coaching goals. Through the years, the speakers at the conferences have proven to be a who's who of Olympians: Bonnie Blair, Brian Boitano (both won gold), Brian Orser, Peter Oppegard (both were medalists), Christy Krall, Ann Margaret Frei and Sonya Dunfield as well as Olympic coaches: Richard Callaghan, Bela Karolyi, Don Laws, Linda Leaver, Tamara Moskvina, Christy Ness, Robin Wagner (whose students all won gold), Frank Carroll, Doug Leigh, John Nicks (who have all coached medalists) Kathy Casey, Peter Dunfield and Audrey Weisiger to name a few. I can honestly say that I have learned many things from these great coaches and when the opening ceremonies begin on February 12, 2010, I will become a member of their club. I can't wait!