Rachael Flatt is a young woman in a hurry.

Flatt finishes her second on-ice training session of the day at the Ice Hall of the Colorado Springs World Arena—half her usual number of sessions because she had to take a standardized statewide achievement test at school.

In less than five minutes she takes off her skates, pulls on a sweater and drags a suitcase, briefcase, oversize quilted bag and a purse outside the building, where she waits for her mother to drive her to a two-hour physical training session at the Olympic Training Center.

Flatt often uses that 15-minute drive and even shorter trips to do homework or stretch in the back seat of the family car. There is not a minute to waste for a 16-year-old as determined to excel in school and skating as she is.

"Rachael loves a challenge," said her mother, Jody.

She has met it impressively in both areas.

In her junior year at Cheyenne Mountain High School, where she is a straight-A student, Flatt is taking AP-level courses in English, chemistry and biology and has her heart set on going to Stanford.

Flatt begins her first full year as a senior-level skater Saturday at Skate America in Everett, Wash., opening event in the annual Grand Prix series. She makes her international senior debut after a 2008 season in which she was not only junior world champion but the surprise runner-up at the U.S. senior championships.

No wonder Flatt has found it necessary to shelve her piano studies, although she says time management is among her strengths.

"I played piano a lot this summer, but I don't have much time anymore," she said with a wry laugh.

Her day begins at 5 a.m., followed at 6:30 by the first of four 45-minute skating sessions. Flatt then goes to school for five hours, returning to the rink for ballet or stretch class at 12:50 p.m. and the next three on-ice sessions with coach Tom Zakrajsek at 1:15, 3:05 and 4. Twice a week she goes to the Olympic Training Center.

Somehow she manages to get her homework done and be in bed by 9:30 p.m.

"I'm really good at AP chemistry and biology," she said. "It's in the genes."

Her father, Jim, is a biochemical engineer working on biofuels and her mother is a molecular biologist.

Flatt, an only child, lived in Del Mar., Calif., until she was 8, when the family moved to Colorado for her father's job with a biotech company. He now commutes weekly from Colorado Springs to his current job on the East Coast.

"School comes first, but skating is really important to me," Flatt said. "I would like to try to do college and skating, but in the real world, if I want to go into sports science or medicine, I might put that off a couple years to finish my skating career."

That career, which has included consistently good results since she was 10, took off last season.

At the nationals, Flatt landed seven clean triple jumps, including a triple-triple combination, to win the free skate and move into second place behind champion Mirai Nagasu.

"I was shocked," Flatt acknowledged.

A month later at the world juniors, she also did seven triples (one penalized for a wrong edge takeoff) and the triple-triple combo to overtake Nagasu in the free skate.

"This year she needs to step up in terms of maturity," Zakrajsek said.

That explains why her choreographer, Lori Nichol, chose excepts from Debussy tone poems for Flatt's free skate. The impressionistic music forces her to develop more refined interpretive skills, and her years of piano lessons help.

Flatt also has upped the technical ante in her combination spin, which she rotates in both directions. She does the required edge change and changes of position during the clockwise movement, which Zakrajsek noted makes the moves more difficult.

The competition at Skate America is so strong Flatt should get an immediate sense of where she stands internationally. The field includes Nagasu, 2007 world champion Miki Ando of Japan, two-time Grand Prix Final winner Kim Yu-Na of South Korea and 2006 world champion Kimmie Meissner of the U.S.

"That's just motivating me even more right now," Flatt said as she loaded her bags into the car, as quickly as possible.

phersh@tribune.com