Sunday, January 19, 2003

Weiss wins third U.S. title on ugly afternoon

By Nancy Armour
The Associated Press

DALLAS - See, it is possible to win a U.S. title without a quadruple jump. Without a triple axel, too.

Despite splattering on his quad lutz, two-footing a quad toe and not doing a triple axel the entire competition, Michael Weiss somehow wound up with his third title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday.

"This was the most bizarre national championships ever," Weiss said.

You think?

And the really scary part is that on an afternoon filled with spills, splats and technical difficulties, Weiss was the best thing going.

"Quad King" Tim Goebel couldn't land a quad, the second-best skater in the short program clipped the boards while doing simple crossovers, and the rankings got so shook up the judges' heads are still spinning.

Little-known Ryan Jahnke vaulted all the way from sixth to third, getting help from Johnny Weir and Matt Savoie, who rounded out the top three after the short.

Weir was the one who clipped the wall, and he dropped out after falling on another jump, straining his left knee. Savoie, already hampered by a bum knee, had more technical difficulties than a cable-access TV station. He had to stop his performance when his stirrup snapped, and he waited more than five minutes for his marks after a computer glitch posted them under Weiss' name.

Savoie probably would have been happy to leave them there, because they dropped him to fifth.

Got all that?

"It wasn't fun, just a weird air in the building," Weiss said. "I never had someone not finish a program a couple of skaters in front of me, and then have it happen again. And then the long delay, it felt like I was waiting 15 minutes for them to announce my name.

"They had the technical difficulties, and then I ran into the flower girl. And they had my name on Matt's marks.

"Just weird."

But after waiting three years for another U.S. title, Weiss isn't really complaining.

He won national crowns and world bronze medals in both 1999 and 2000, then struggled with injuries and inconsistency. He barely made his second Olympic team last year.

Feeling like he needed to shake up things, he left his coach of 18 years, Audrey Weisiger, in October and now works with Don Laws, Scott Hamilton's mentor.

But after finishing fourth in the short, Weiss needed help just to make the world team, let alone have a shot at the title.

Boy, did he get it.

The weirdness began with Weir. After he clipped the wall and fell, the referee allowed him pick up where he left off. But Weir was shaken, stepping out of his first triple axel and then falling on the second, hurting his knee.

"My knee moved out of place. I didn't want to injure myself worse, so I thought it was the best thing to do," Weir said. "I was feeling really confident and ready to do a great program for television, and to show it was no fluke in the short program."

Next came Savoie. About 31/2 minutes into his program, his right stirrup, which hooks under his boot to keep his pants from rising up, came loose. The referee had to blow her whistle three times before Savoie heard it over his music and the crowd.

Then there was the computer glitch with his marks. The crowd jeered, and Savoie looked unhappy as the public address announcer said, "Hang in there Matt, we'll be with you in just a moment."

Five minutes later, they finally were.

Weiss, meanwhile, was skating around, trying to calm his nerves.

"I knew it was in my own hands, and you want to control your own destiny," he said. "It's a position I've been in before, and I don't like that position. I don't want to make that a routine."

Though Weiss fell once and didn't have his usual spark, it was evident just how badly he wanted the title - and a trip to worlds in Washington, not far from his hometown of Fairfax, Va. - as he fought for everything else in his program.

He barely touched down a second foot on a quad toe-triple toe jump that was so big he practically reached the second deck. And he saved a triple flip and triple salchow-double toe combination with catlike instincts, landing on his feet despite being tilted in the air.

"I had enough in my program to win the competition," he said.

But he had to wait to see what Goebel did. Not much, as it turned out.

Jumps have never been Goebel's problem, which made his performance Saturday so stunning. He fell on his quadruple salchow and first quad toe, then stepped out on another quad toe. He didn't even bother trying a planned fourth quad, doing a triple salchow instead.

"I didn't quite fight through all the way," said Goebel, competing for the first time this season. "I came in really well-prepared, so I'm really disappointed I couldn't get it back together after the first mistake."

He didn't look very surprised when his marks were posted, showing him in second place behind Weiss. Backstage, Weiss waved at the camera and mouthed, "Thank you, Audrey."

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