Weir, Savoie and Lysacek at the Top in Men's Short Program

by Sal Zanca, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Johnny Weir
Photo by Paul Harvath

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(1/8/04) — Defending champion Michael Weiss (Washington FSC) said it best: "Welcome to sports. Sometimes people who are supposed to skate well don't, and sometimes people do."

Weiss and Timothy Goebel (Winterhurst FSC) have five U.S. titles between them, but with three falls between them in the short program, they stand in fourth and 10th place.

"Every professional athlete has his day," Weiss said.

In their place at the top are a trio of skaters who had better days than Weiss and Goebel: Johnny Weir (SC of New York), who failed to finish his free skate last year and prefers to look at his time in Atlanta as a vacation; Matt Savoie (Illinois Valley FSC), who had knee surgery last April and only started jumping again last September; Evan Lysacek (DuPage FSC), who spent the fall season dominating the Junior Grand Prix circuit. 

Weiss is fourth, still in contention for a spot on the podium and the World Team. After all, he was fourth last year and jumped to first in a crazy free skate. Weir was second after a good short program last year, but he withdrew in the middle of his free skate after a fall caused a knee injury.

"Last year was a fluke," Weir said. "I don't like to speak of it that much because it was completely in the past. I don't really care about it any more. It's just out there," Weir said.

He wanted to get his mind off skating after the 2002-03 season. "I have not completely watched skating all year," he said. "I don't want to see people I am competing against doing things and being movers and shakers. I just stayed away, and it helped me stay away and that has helped me stay level-headed. This year I am focusing on not thinking about figure skating. I just want to be here.  I am on vacation in Atlanta and there happens to be a figure skating event going on. As far as being in first I am going to skate as if I am 22nd."

If he skates the free skate Saturday as well as he skated on Thursday, he will have a hard time getting beat.

He may not have had the most difficult program - his combination was a triple Lutz-triple toe - but it was the most elegant. Skating to "Valse Triste," the 19-year-old Weir had four first-place votes and three seconds. That was just enough to be ahead of Savoie, Lysacek and Weiss. who divided up the other five first-place votes among them.

"I think my placement was justified," Weir said. "Regardless of who people think should be the top three," Weir said. "It is a sport and people mess up obviously. The three of us deserve to be in the top three."

Savoie, 23, made the World Team in 2002 when Todd Eldredge retired after the Olympics. Savoie says he is still not 100 percent.

"I am still not really at full strength yet," Savoie said. "I still have pain off and on. I competed once, and I was doing exhibitions to be in front of people and skating again. So this is just one more step in the process," Savoie said.

He skated second and finished second, doing a triple flip-triple toe combination, triple Lutz and triple Axel.

The 18-year-old Lysacek, the Junior Grand Prix champion, was third, completing a triple Axel-double toe combination

Weiss hit a triple Axel twice in warm-up but leaned too much in the program resulting in a fall.

He said he may have been affected by a quick decision to go for a more difficult combination - a quad toe-triple toe rather than a triple flip-triple toe.

"I contemplated doing an easier program just to win the short, but I got out there and decided it won't do me any good," Weiss said. "I really wanted to go for the quad At the World Championships I really need that in the short program. So I might as well get back on track on it starting here."

He said he is even thinking about a quad Lutz in Saturday's  free skate.

"In practice I did a couple good quad Lutzes - good enough to be in the program," he said.

Goebel was in 10th place and in a state of disbelief after falling on his quadruple toe loop, popping his Axel and crumbling on his triple flip. His scores were as low as 3.2  for required elements.

"Coming into this I felt a lot better than I had all season," he said. "I really don't understand it. I am much more prepared than what I skated. Falling on the toe is one thing, but to pop the Axel is what I am most upset about. I just don't understand what happened. I am much better than that."

He thinks he has never had a short program as bad as that. "There is nothing  in the short except elements and three of them were a disaster," Goebel said. "And the footwork wasn't so hot either."

Goebel had to withdraw from two Grand Prix events this season with boot troubles.

"He felt he had to go out there and maybe underneath it all he felt not that prepared," said Goebel's coach, Frank Carroll. "As a coach it is hard to figure out what is going on through somebody's mind, but I know that this was not Timothy skating. He can either go one way and be depressed and go down or rise to the occasion." The men's free skate is Saturday, Jan. 10 at 2:10 p.m.