Michael Weiss Returns to the Top of the Podium

by Michelle Wojdyla
Michael Weiss won his third U.S. title.

"It just seemed like there was an aura in the arena that was strange tonight," said Michael Weiss, winner of the championship men's event at the 2003 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships. "I've never seen that many things happen like that before. From somebody not finishing their program in competition, to hitting the wall, the names going up under somebody else's marks, I ran into the flower girl. This is figure skating. It's drama. We provided it tonight!"

In fourth after the short program, Weiss needed help to win the competition. After falling on his quad Lutz, two-footing the quad toe in his quad-triple toe combination and doubling his triple Axel, Weiss completed the other five triples. It turned out to be one of the best programs of the night, and the stars aligned perfectly enough to earn him his third U.S. title.

"...I felt like the program I skated was good from start to finish," Weiss said. "It had mistakes in it, but it was an entire program. I felt like the spins and the footwork and things flowed nicely."

Timothy Goebel had a less-than-stellar outing, falling on three quad attempts and only doing a triple for the planned fourth quad. He placed third in the short program and second overall.

"To be honest, I've no idea what happened," Goebel said. "Last Friday I did a run-through with four quads. There's no excuse for what happened. I'm embarrassed. The only thing I can say is I fought through the program."

Ryan Jahnke, whose previous best finish at the U.S. Champinships was fifth in 2000, moved up to capture the bronze after finishing second in the free skate. Jahnke opened with a triple Axel. His spread eagles and spiral sequence were a highlight of the program, which also included a 'Tano triple Lutz.

"I try not to think too much about the outcome," Jahnke said. "This is just incredible. It's something I looked forward to for a long time."

Jahnke said he almost gave up skating after the 2002 U.S. Championships but decided to stick with it because he felt he hadn't done everything he wanted to do in skating. It turned out he made the right decision.

The competition opened with an excellent program by Ryan Bradley who was in 15th place after the short program. After popping his opening triple Axel, Bradley reeled off a quad toe-double toe combination, along with six other triples. The afternoon looked as though it was off to a good start.

Two skaters later, Shepherd Clark skated onto the ice, promptly went to the referee and withdrew from the event due to illness.

Parker Pennington, who drew first in the second group, skated the program of his life, complete with two triple Axels and five other triples. He received a standing ovation from the audience and placed fifth in the free skate and sixth overall.

This is figure skating. It's drama. We provided it tonight!"
- Michael Weiss -

Opening the final group, Scott Smith had a good skate to place fourth.

"When I drew first to skate in [the final group for] the long program I was really happy," Smith said. "After knowing the circumstances I was really happy!"

Those "circumstances" include the unusual performance by Johnny Weir, who was unable to finish his program, even after being given a restart by the referee when he fell into the boards.

"I was skating too close [to the boards] and my blade got stuck between the ice and the wall and I fell," Weir said. "I twisted my back on the first fall when I hit the boards. I wrenched it kind of funny. It was only after the second fall that my knee kind of moved when I landed on my knee. I didn't think I wanted to injure myself further, so I went and withdrew.

"It's very disappointing," continued Weir, who strained his left knee on the second fall on the triple Axel. "I came in and I was skating great. I just wanted to skate the best I could on TV just to show everyone that I'm not fluky and I deserved to get second in the short."

Matt Savoie had to begin his program ahead of schedule. He took a hard fall on his triple Salchow. Shortly after he took his triple flip-double toe into the boards. The referee blew the whistle for him to stop, as Savoie's pants strap was hanging dangerously near his blade. Savoie was setting up for his triple Lutz, which would have meant attempting to jump off the fabric rather than the ice. He didn't hear the whistle and made the jump attempt safely. The whistle blew again and again, finally stopping Savoie.

"I didn't hear the referee's whistle until the last 10 seconds of the program," Savoie said. "I came over [to the referee] and it turned out (my strap) had broken. It wasn't really going well up until that point. I had only done two triples up until then. This week hasn't been normal by any means."

"He hasn't done a long in eight days," Gene Hefron, Savoie's coach, said. "For anybody at this level to do a long program without training it for eight days is asking the impossible. He just got tired and didn't have that quickness he usually has. The fall really took it out of him. We';re going to meet with the doctor. He's got to rest it now. Now we've got lots of time to rest it and make sure it's OK before he comes back. It was a bizarre competition for us."

As Savoie waited in the kiss and cry, a glitch in the scoring system had put Savoie's marks under Michael Weiss' name. There was a delay of more than seven minutes before that was resolved.

Weiss, meanwhile, didn't know he had won until Goebel finished his program. Then, a la Sarah Hughes at the Olympics, he learned he had jumped from fourth to first to reclaim a spot on the top of the podium.