Shortly before getting on the ice at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, Canada, during the 2010 Winter Olympics, the U.S. national champion figure skater and high-school senior Rachael Flatt was writing a paper on Pride and Prejudice for her AP English Literature class. Though it was her first time competing in the Olympics, Flatt had been training vigorously for years; she knew that every spare moment had to be put toward maintaining good grades. She had a way of overthinking her skating routines anyway, and concentrating on Jane Austen before taking to the ice was a helpful distraction. When the time to perform arrived, Flatt executed her triple toe loops and double axels without error, finishing seventh overall. On her essay, she received an A.
“My parents told me that if my grades suffered, my skating would be postponed,” Flatt said. Though she missed three months of classes leading up to and during the Olympics, she graduated from high school on time and was admitted to Stanford. “I didn’t have much social life that year,” she recalled. Flatt continued to train up to eight hours a day while in college and graduated in four years.
Even with her superior education, Flatt struggled after retiring from skating in 2014. “Leaving a sport feels like a divorce: You’re cut wide open and have a gaping hole,” she said. But neither U.S. Figure Skating (the national body that governs the sport) nor the U.S. Olympic Committee (the entity that coordinates Olympic activities for U.S. athletes) had much to offer in the way of post-retirement support, Flatt said, emphasizing that the USOC’s mission is simply to win as many Olympic medals as possible. “Once they’ve retired, athletes can feel like they’re an afterthought,” Flatt explained. “If you don’t have an education or training to guide you, you’re kind of out of luck.”