Lysacek opens third Olympic bid at Champs CampSkater intends to use Curry's 'Don Quixote' as inspiration
Whatever comes of Evan Lysacek's bid for a third Olympic team -- whether he ascends the podium at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and competes in Sochi in February, or falls short of his goal -- he won't regret the journey.
"Since I made this decision, I really am happy," he said. "I love the lifestyle of an elite athlete, I love the structure, I love the daily training. I love the competition aspect of it. I would love to wear the flag on my back one more time."
The 28-year-old Olympic champion, who has not competed since the 2010 Vancouver Games, kicked off his quest Wednesday when he performed his short program and free skate before U.S. Figure Skating officials at Champs Camp.
"I feel healthy, I feel strong," Lysacek said after the free skate. "I have had a couple of obstacles, I've had to adapt, but any athlete goes through challenges and ups and downs."
A groin injury, followed by an operation for a sports hernia last November, delayed his comeback plans but fueled his desire.
"It motivated me to get back," Lysacek said. "When the doctor said, 'Yeah, you'll skate in a year,' I said, 'Not good enough.' He told me I would be doing physical therapy in three months, and I said, 'No, I'll be doing it in three weeks.'"
With an Olympic title -- as well as the 2009 world crown and two U.S. championships -- in hand, why force one's body to reenter the athletic fray? For Frank Carroll, Lysacek's longtime coach, the answer is, "Why not?"
"He just really loves to skate, and he felt he was not of retirement age," Carroll said. "He's young, he's a beautiful skater. [In football] you don't have to stop after you've won the Super Bowl; you keep playing other championships and try to get another ring. I think that's his attitude, that he's an athlete."
Lysacek didn't take the easy route to Champs Camp. Although he and choreographer Lori Nichol prepared a free skate to Samson and Delilah, which the skater debuted at a Sun Valley show last month, Lysacek shifted gears and in recent weeks created a new free with Nichol, set to Minkus' Don Quixote. It was finished just three days before he came to Colorado Springs, so new he forgot some of the steps. (Lysacek's short program is set to music from Black Swan.)
"Skating it here today, I feel like it was a very sound decision," Lysacek said. "After hearing the music in an arena and feeling the attitude of the program, I feel like it was a good choice."
"There are lots of beats to it, it's familiar, it's from a ballet that has been done many times and it's world-famous music," Carroll said. "I think it has a lot of audience appeal because the rhythms are so strong."
The late John Curry's 1976 Olympic performance to Don Quixote, with its clean lines and flawless execution, is near legendary in figure skating circles. Lysacek is confident he can build on Curry's legacy.
"I can't help but be inspired by some of the great champions who have used it before, John Curry being the most synonymous with this piece of music," he said. "I've been studying a lot of what he did. I'm very inspired by his line and simplicity and elegance."
Simplicity isn't the first word that comes to mind with Lysacek. His Olympic short program costume was adorned with feathers. He flings himself into step sequences with abandon as opposed to Curry's cool control. Now, he seeks to pare down his movements and stretch his artistry into new directions.
"With all of the clutter that is being thrown into the programs with this new [judging] system, seeing someone with simplicity and elegance is really powerful," he said. "That's kind of what I'm going for: line and elegance."
Lysacek won't set aside his flamboyant steps entirely. He applauds the addition of a "choreographed" sequence that lets skaters do whatever they wish, without concern for technical levels.
"There was something to be said for the steps of the old days, when you just fly at the end of the program with speed and power and are not necessarily as worried about the intricacies," he said. "One [step sequence] is set aside for the intricate and technical stuff, and the other is for choreographic steps. [The second one] is where I will let free and be more myself. The rest of the program, I will try to be more like John."
The "old days" come quickly in figure skating these days. When Lysacek defeated Russia's Evgeni Plushenko for Olympic gold in 2010, he didn't need a quadruple jump. Although he has landed quad toes in competition, most notably in winning his first U.S. title in 2007, the maneuver wasn't rewarded with as many points as it is today.
In Sochi, it will be nearly impossible to land on the Olympic podium without a quad. At Champs Camp, U.S. champion Max Aaron said he planned three in his free skate and at least one in his short. Lysacek accepted the necessity of including the jump, but it didn't seem to make him happy.
"Oh, the quad," he said with a chuckle. "Who knows, I've seen some funny stuff this season, I have to tell you. Four, five, six quads. It will be funny to see some of the guys, how they try them. If you try it and go down, it's still worth more than a triple."
"Of course he is trying [the quad]," Carroll said. "He tried it today a number of times. It's not there yet. Some days it's fine, some days it's not. ... He needs a little bit more time to be on top of it. Thank goodness it's this early in the year; it's not September yet, so he has quite a bit of time."
Lysacek is scheduled to compete at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City beginning Sept. 11, where he will square off against Aaron and Joshua Farris, the reigning world junior champion, among others. Carroll downplayed expectations about his pupil's performance there.
"He needs a minimum [ISU] score to enter Olympics and worlds; he doesn't have that," Carroll said. "We don't want to go there and make a mess, but we have no expectations that it will be a grandiose performance. It's go and get your minimum points and try out your programs and get evaluated, and then get more healed."
"I have to have a starting point and build from there," Lysacek said. "Everything is one more step in the right direction. ... My dad once told me a long time ago, 'You don't have to win them all, you just have to win once.'"
Ten in it for the long haul
The 75-year-old Carroll trains Lysacek and Kazakhstan's world silver medalist Denis Ten at Los Angeles' Toyota Sports Center, driving from his home in Palm Springs on Mondays to stay the week in Los Angeles in a rented apartment. He returns home Friday afternoons.
"Quite frankly, if Denis hadn't come in second in the world and won the free skating, I don't know if I would be doing this," he said. "But Denis wasn't through; he probably will stay another four years -- I couldn't just tell him to get lost. And then with Evan coming back, it seemed I needed a facility that had three surfaces and the correct atmosphere."
"Toyota has been wonderful to us. They've given us any private ice that is available for nothing," Carroll continued. "They have given us special sessions for elite-only kids, so [Lysacek and Ten] can skate in an environment where they can jump and do programs without interference."
Like Lysacek, the 20-year-old Ten is working himself into competitive shape.
"He is also working hard on the quad. He doesn't have it back yet," Carroll said. "He's coming closer and closer. It will be there. The quad is not an easy thing to keep in your repertoire."
Carroll is ecstatic about Ten's new programs, a short to Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre" and free to Shostakovich's "Lady and the Hooligan," both choreographed by Nichol.
"I thought, 'Do we have to change programs? Why don't we keep the same ones?'" he said. "And when I saw what she gave him, it's just amazing. The footwork is mind boggling."