Tough coach guides a rising skating star Rachael Flatt

EVERETT — Olympic medals can be measured in years.

In discipline, talent and timing.

In learning from mistakes and in faith in things that cannot be seen.

This, Tom Zakrajsek believes to his core.

Leaning over a railing at the skating rink, his silver-blond hair cropped close, the figure skating coach nods as his star student approaches.

The sound of metal blades cutting across ice pierces the arena. The young skater stops for words about technique, words of reassurance.

Wearing a sparkling powder-blue outfit, Rachael Flatt listens to her coach with the focus of a model student.

Zakrajsek is known for his intensity and discipline. Skaters who don’t take direction well don’t last long.

That isn’t a problem for Rachael, who at 16 has skated with Zakrajsek half her life. He’s a tough teacher, she says, but that’s “almost a necessity.”

Rachael, the reigning world junior champion who has sported red-white-and-blue braces on her teeth, is a rising star from Colorado Springs, Colo. Many say she will fulfill her promise at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

Rachael was the runner-up during the U.S. Championships this year, behind champion Mirai Nagasu.

She made her international seniors debut in Everett at Skate America last night, placing fifth out of 11 skaters in the ladies’ short program.

Zakrajsek is all about shaping potential. A former figure skater who competed in six U.S. nationals, he was on a similar path with another skater earlier this decade.

Zakrajsek coached a prodigy who was viewed as a contender for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Ann Patrice McDonough was the fourth-ranked American skater. She suddenly stopped skating competitively in 2004.

Her decision is still clouded in mystery. Some speculate burnout.

Zakrajsek, who now has two young children, says being a father infused more compassion into his coaching. Has he changed since his last star? He says no.

He ends Friday’s practice with a smile.

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