Thursday, January 8, 1997
For Weiss, it's quad or bust

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHILADELPHIA - Michael Weiss might play it safe. He might douse his burning ambition with some cold calculation. He might decide to save his quadruple lutz for another day.

But probably not. Much as America's most audacious figure skater covets a place on the Olympic team, he is committed to chasing it boldly. Though a conservative program might secure his passage to Nagano, Weiss is determined to dare. He yearns to become the first man to land a quadruple lutz in competition, and he has resolved to try it tonight despite daunting risks.

Only two American men will qualify for the Olympic singles competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships tonight, and one of those places is already ceded to four-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge. Weiss stands second to Eldredge entering tonight's long program, and could overtake him if he were to land his quad.

But if he should fail to complete four mid-air revolutions and land on one foot - and he usually does - Weiss could wind up watching the Winter Games from his home in Fairfax, Va. His leap of faith may ultimately be seen as foolhardy.

''It's something I've spent so much time working on that I really want to give it a shot,'' Weiss said. ''I've always been one to go out there and go after it. It's risky, but as an athlete you always have a few doubts in your mind. That's what separates us - we go out there and do it anyway.''

'I want to be the first'

Weiss' admitted role model is Roy McAvoy, the noble knucklehead Kevin Costner plays in Tin Cup. McAvoy plays golf so stubbornly that he blows the U.S. Open because of a misguided refusal to lay up on the final hole. Michael Weiss views the film not as a cautionary tale, but as a blueprint. The luck of the draw has Weiss last on tonight's program, which would presumably allow him the luxury of adjusting his plans according to the performance of his competition. But nearly no one thinks this will happen.

If Scott Davis, the two-time national champion, is only ordinary this evening, Weiss might be wise to scale back his quad to a triple lutz. Wisdom, however, would not seem to be his strength. Desire, not discretion, is the better part of Weiss' valor.

''I want to be the first one in the world to do something,'' Weiss said. ''It's important to me. It's a priority. The Olympics is about being the best, and I think for me to be on that medals podium in Nagano, it would be important for me to do this.''

In the narrowest sense, Weiss is quite correct. Because Canadian champion Elvis Stojko and Russians Ilia Kulik and Alexei Yagudin have all landed quadruple toe loops in competition, the international bar has been raised to a point where a quad may soon be required.

''You'll need a quad to medal at the Olympics,'' Yagudin said last month in Munich. Yet qualifying for the Olympics involves different questions. So long as Eldredge and Davis do not attempt quads, Weiss is at no disadvantage by dropping his. Because Weiss typically lands about one out of 10 quads in practice, the downside risk would seem extreme.

May land on judges

The extent of the danger will depend on the attitude of the judges. Because the quadruple lutz is unprecedented, judges may not deduct as much when it is missed. A clean program of routine difficulty often does not score as well as a flawed, but more ambitious effort. The lutz - launched backward from the left leg, and landed on the right - is considered skating's second-most difficult jump, behind the axel.

Yet in placing the quad at the beginning of his program so that he can attempt it at peak energy, Weiss could be putting himself in position to play catch-up. Should he fail to land the quad or, worse, fall, Weiss might feel added pressure to be perfect.

Then again, maybe he makes it.

''It's obviously a very difficult jump,'' Weiss said. ''But I think the risk is something I can take right now. With Todd (Eldredge) being the national champion four times, I have to do something extra to try and sneak in.

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