Twists and Turns During Four Continents Men's Finalby Laura Fawcett
Photo by George Rossano
(1/27/06) - The men's free skate Friday night at the 2006 ISU Four Continents Championships can simply be described as odd. It seemed that everything that was expected became unexpected. And the biggest lesson of all for young skaters everywhere is that persevering after a hard fall can still win a gold medal.
But ‘odd' was still the operative word.
Michael Weiss earned a standing ovation for what most likely was his final competitive appearance. Japan's Nobunari Oda, the leader after the short program, crumbled on his opening triple Axel, smashed into the boards and nearly decided to cut his program short. Matt Savoie, who turned in a magnificent program at the 2006 State Farm U.S. Championships, stunned the audience and himself by managing just two triple jumps in his free skate. And Canada's Christopher Mabee made a name for himself by winning the free skate and shattering his personal best score.
The night didn't start out that odd, actually. In fact, it was more emotional than weird as Weiss took the ice in the penultimate group. Skating to his Beethoven medley, Weiss was far from top form as he landed just four triples. But for the fans, it wasn't about triples. It was about appreciating the career of one of American skating's best ambassadors for the sport.
“I thought long and hard about coming into this competition, and I thought ‘I'm in shape. I'm feeling good, I'm doing all the elements, so why not come and skate good programs?'” he said. “Obviously emotionally it was a bit too much for me to handle - turning it around so quickly, but I came out here and did what I could and fought until the end of the program. It's a let down, certainly. I'm not used to coming in and performing two programs this poorly back-to-back. It's a foreign situation to me, especially since I was really trained and ready for nationals.”
Weiss matter-of-factly talked to reporters about his career, his future, and the fact that he plans to keep training in case he's called to compete at the Olympics or World Championships. That means he isn't retired quite yet.
“I'm an alternate for the Olympics so I can't quite say ‘Yeah I'm retired' and then someone gets hurt,” he said. “I'm certainly going to step in where I have to.” After the emotion of Weiss' skate, most people would have thought it would be business-as-usual for the final group. But that was far from what happened.
Scott Smith opened the group with a solid skate that had seven triples, including a triple toe-double toe-double toe combination and triple Axel-triple toe combination. His performance turned out to be the third-best of the night.
“I feel very good about it,” Smith said. “It's definitely hard after an exciting nationals to come back a week and a half later and try to repeat something that was one of my best. With the altitude it's just that much more difficult, but I'm happy with how it came out.”
Oda was next on the ice, and that's when the weirdness really kicked in. On his opening triple Axel, he caught an edge heading up and fell hard to the ice, sliding and crashing into the boards. He got up slowly and appeared disoriented as he caught up with his program. After shocking the audience by then reeling off a triple Lutz-triple toe-double loop combination, he stopped his program again, skating around aimlessly for about 15 seconds.
But he didn't quit. He managed to make it through his program with astonishing prowess, landing another triple Axel and three other triples.
His scores still had him first in the free skate and first overall, until Mabee hit the ice to perform one of his best programs ever.
“I would say it's one of the best ones feeling-wise,” Mabee said. “My big thing was just pacing myself and taking my time. I thought in the program I was going a little slow, but it was exactly what I needed to do, and I got all the stuff done. That's all that matters in the end.”
His score of 130.56 beat his previous personal best by about 13 points and moved him ahead of Oda in the free skate and second overall. With only Savoie left to skate, that guaranteed him a medal.
“I'm overwhelmed,” Mabee said. “When I first came to this competition it's a really strong field. You have some excellent Japanese, some strong Americans, some good Canadians. To be in the top of this field is completely an honor, and when I step onto the podium I'm just going to remember that feeling.”
When Savoie took the ice the title was there for the taking. But it wasn't to be. When asked after his performance what happened, his answer was simple” “It's what didn't happen actually,” he said.
Things seemed amiss immediately as he doubled his opening jump, an intended triple loop. After hitting a triple Axel-double toe, the program unraveled. He managed a triple flip-double toe-single loop combination but couldn't come up with another triple in the program.
Savoie finished sixth in the free skate and dropped to third overall. While obviously unhappy with his skate, he found a way to look at the performance as a learning experience.
“It (my confidence) is definitely not what it would have been had I performed better, but at the same time it does give me a lot to work on,” he said. “Rather than being a complete disappointment, it's going to give me something to prepare when I skate again.”
Oda held on to capture the gold medal, but he was still in shock about how it all happened.
And on a very strange night, he's not the only one wondering.