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Carriere says he's ready to rumble

Reigning U.S. bronze medalist calls himself a "dark horse"

Stephen Carriere is OK after a car accident in Boston last week.
Stephen Carriere is OK after a car accident in Boston last week. (Scottie Bibb)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/20/2009) - Stephen Carriere is trying not to worry too much.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "Skating isn't something I'm going to be able to do forever. I want to enjoy doing what I love."

The 19-year-old Boston College student, who won the bronze medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last season, has good reason to look on the bright side. Driving the family hand-me-down, a 1995 Chevy Lumina, to the gym last Saturday turned into a hair-raising ride.

"It was a bit scary, the car was totaled," Carriere said. "It was definitely something to shake me up."

Changing lanes, the skater was maneuvering into a blind spot when a red Suburu made the same move, only faster. Suddenly, there was a car in front of him.

"To avoid a collision, I shifted left, and my back left tire blew," he remembered. "I swerved three times. The car did a 180 U-turn right into the guard rail."

Suddenly, the early-season disappointment at NHK Trophy, where Carriere failed to make the Grand Prix Final by one missed jump, didn't matter too much anymore.

"This season has been . . . interesting," he said. "It started off well at Cup of China with a silver medal. I got my feet wet and put my new programs out there.

"After that, I had a month and a half before NHK, and everything was going great. Then in my short program [at NHK] my [triple] flip, [triple] toe combination was down graded. Unfortunately that really threw me off."

The normally even-tempered Carriere entered the free skate with a less-than-positive attitude. Still, he needed only a bronze medal or a specific score, both well within his reach, to qualify for the Final. Instead, he finished sixth overall, done in by two popped triple Axels.

"It was not a great program, it wasn't what I normally do," he said. "My goal was to make that Final and I was in a good spot, and it just didn't happen. But then again, not going gave me more time to train for Cleveland."

Carriere doesn't yet have a quadruple jump in his competitive arsenal, but is consistent with his array of triples and gains high marks for his spins. This season, he and coaches Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson are focusing on enhancing the overall package.

"I can pretty much do every single thing in my programs; now, I want to knock them out of their seats" was how he put it.

His programs are choreographed by California-based choreographer Jamie Isley, who travels to Boston each summer to work with Mitchell and Johansson's students. His short, to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters," is one of those pick-your-own meaning routines.

"It just how anyone wants to interpret it," Carriere said. "You could think it means nothing else matters, as long as I'm with the person I love. For me, it's nothing else matters, as long as I'm on the ice."

Following in the tradition of many skaters, he chose Stravinsky's Firebird for his long.

"I'm really, really excited to do it; I haven't been able to use much classical music in the past, and it's a challenge," he said. "Disney did a movie, Fantasia 2000, with a variation on the Firebirdstory. I'm kind of focusing on that.

"I don't let it worry me that others have done it. I think about Joannie Rochette or Kurt Browning's programs to Firebirdand I just think I'm adding to that tradition."

With the media focus on the long-running Johnny-Evan (or Evan-Johnny) saga, along with Jeremy Abbott's emergence as a new powerhouse this fall, Carriere is playing the role of forgotten man. And that's just how he likes it.

"It's great being a little under the radar," he said. "I definitely think I'm a potential dark horse. We all have to go out and do our programs and I usually perform pretty well under pressure.

"Of course, you've got to keep in mind that this year is a bit bigger than last. There are more skaters who could win or medal. It would be great to make Four Continents term and the U.S. world team, but this year is really a stepping stone to the 2010 Olympics."

Clambering out of that 1995 Lumina without a scratch has left Carriere sounding like a cheerful ironman. In a sport where teleconferences can resemble hospital reports, he's not only talking about the 2010; he thinks he'll have enough left in the tank for 2014 as well.

"I really think my body can handle another four years," he said with refreshing optimism. "I would love to go in 2010 and 2014 and I think physically I can.

"Honestly, I'm just going to Cleveland focusing on doing what I can do and my love of skating. I'm happy, healthy and ready to compete. I feel like I've been waiting for it a long time."