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Lysacek wins national title in a tiebreaker

Double jump -- not quad -- makes the difference

Evan Lysacek is one of many prominent U.S. skaters that will appear at the Four Continents Championships.
Evan Lysacek is one of many prominent U.S. skaters that will appear at the Four Continents Championships. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/27/2008) - Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir went quad-to-quad in the men's free skate, but in the end, the simplest of double jumps may have made the difference at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

In an unprecedented result, the two skaters tied with 244.77 total points. Lysacek won his second consecutive U.S. title by edging his rival by 1.35 points in the free skate, which is used as the tiebreaker in these situations.

Had Weir not pared an intended triple flip-double toe combination to a single triple flip, he might have brought home gold.

"I have three; he can have two," said Weir, who won the title from 2004-2006.

The "Evan vs. Johnny" showdown, touted as an epic rivalry all week, fizzled a bit when both athletes delivered solid, but less-than-mesmerizing, programs.

Lysacek, who wrested the U.S. title from Weir last season with a thrilling performance to Bizet's "Carmen," did not duplicate the magic with this season's routine to Puccini's "Tosca."

The 22-year-old, who trains in Southern California under veteran coach Frank Carroll, was off-balance from the start. He two-footed his quad toe-triple toe combo and wavered on the landings of both of his triple Axels.

The performance picked up steam in the second half, when Lysacek cut loose in his trademark theatrical step sequences, gaining cheers from the crowd and piling up presentation scores.

"I had to fight for almost all of my jumps," the skater said. "I was a little stiff, and there were several other reasons it was not my best performance, maybe a few nerves. When I get down in my knees, I'm a lot better."

Even Carroll admitted that choosing between the two athletes was a bit like comparing Hurray for Hollywood to Dr. Zhivago.

"I watched Evan, and I watched Johnny, and I thought Johnny was terrific," he said. "His jumps were straight in the air and beautiful to watch.

"Evan was exciting and dramatic. It depends on what you like, pie or cake."

Lysacek won world bronze in 2005 and 2006 but finished fifth at the world championships last season. With the U.S. title in hand, his thoughts turned to regaining a spot on the world podium at the 2008 worlds in Gothenburg, Sweden, in March.

"I'm going to go home, work a lot harder and come out fighting for the next round," he said. "Last season at worlds was the first time I was ever off the podium at an ISU event, except at the Olympics. I didn't like it."

For Weir, the tiebreaking loss was a bitter disappointment.

Although clearly perplexed by the result in the event's "kiss and cry" area, the skater quickly regrouped and cheerfully responded to reporters' questions.

"I feel fantastic, whether it's first place, second place or last place," the 23-year-old said. "I'm happy with the way I skated, except for those two little mistakes, the toe loop and the [two-footed] flip at the end."

Those "little mistakes" likely cost Weir the title.

"On my second [triple] Lutz, there was supposed to be a double toe and double loop on the end," he explained. "I left off the double loop to save energy for my last combination, which was supposed to be a triple flip-double toe, but I two-footed the flip and didn't do the toe."

Weir had a lot invested in this performance to Yoav Goren's "Love is War." After placing eighth at the world championships last season in Tokyo, the skater left his coach of a decade, Priscilla Hill, and his family's home in Pennsylvania to train under Galina Zmievskaya in Wayne, N.J.

"There was so much pressure on me to come back strong this season, not cause any major issues, not make anyone angry, not make anyone sad," he said.

Today, the outspoken skater sought to build on his successful fall Grand Prix season and prove he could still deliver the goods in high-pressure situations.

He opened strong. His quad toe loop, though a bit two-footed, earned 7.71 points, and his next five jump elements -- including a soaring triple Axel-triple toe combination and second triple Axel -- gained positive Grades of Execution from the judges.

The problem came on his tenth element, an intended triple flip-double toe combination. Weir left off the double toe, a move worth 1.30 points -- about the margin of Lysacek's victory.

Although Weir won the program components score, with 79.14 points to Lysacek's 78.72, he lost on the technical elements, 82.23 to 84.00.

"That program was really fantastic vindication for me," Weir, who collapsed with emotion at the end of his skate, said.

"I've worked hard, put in the hours, got a new coach, a new life. I wanted desperately for all that to show, and I think it did.

"The audience was fantastic today. You're sitting backstage for an hour thinking of everything that can go right or go wrong, then you go on the ice, you're in a sparkling onesie, and you're in front of all these people that you know are behind you. That really helps so much."

2007 world junior champion Stephen Carriere performed a relatively clean but technically conservative program to grab the bronze medal and the third spot on the U.S. men's world team with 228.06 points.

"Getting to worlds is really the icing on the cake," the 18-year-old, who trains in Boston under Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, said.

"When I was younger, I would pick up an issue of [U.S. Skating] magazine, look at the group photos of the world team and think, 'I want to be there someday.'"

Carriere was the only one of the top-five finishers who did not attempt either a quad or a triple-triple combination, a deliberate strategy on the part of his coaches.

"I think for the next few events this season, we're really going to focus on pushing my program components score higher," the skater said. "Adding a quad will have to wait until next year."

Jeremy Abbott had his best free skate of the season, but it wasn't enough for a spot on the world team.

The skater placed fourth with 221.85 points after two-footing the landing of a quadruple toe loop and popping a triple Axel in a program that was artistically and technically more challenging than Carriere's.

"It's kind of bittersweet," the 22-year-old skater said. "I stood up on the quad, which was a big hurdle for me, but I didn't give that little bit extra I needed to make the world team."

Last season's silver medalist Ryan Bradley placed fifth with 221.31 points.

The charismatic 24-year-old had a solid performance to a medley of Charlie Chaplin tunes, but he fell on his opening quad toe loop and turned out of the landings of several other jumps.

"I'm definitely disappointed," Bradley said. "I did a lot of good things, but there were a few things I could have done a lot better."

Scott Smith, who recently left coaches Mitchell and Johansson at the Skating Club of Boston to train under Stephanie Grosscup in Salt Lake City, placed sixth with 210.55 points.