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Weir vs. Lysacek, Round Two

Top American men battle at Grand Prix Final

Johnny Weir already beat Evan Lysacek head-to-head at the Cup of China in November.
Johnny Weir already beat Evan Lysacek head-to-head at the Cup of China in November. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford and Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(12/12/2007) - While it's not the Red Sox vs. Yankees, or even Yagudin vs. Plushenko, the rivalry between Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir is one of American skating's biggest storylines heading into the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minn.

As the U.S. contingent squares off against the world's best at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, the competition-within-the-competition will be between the reigning U.S. champion, Lysacek, and the man he dethroned last season, three-time champ Weir (2004-2006).

"What we're looking at is one skater [Weir] forcing another [Lysacek] to get better," four-time world champion Kurt Browning said at the U.S. Championships last season.

Both take the ice at Turin's Palavela with mixed memories. At the '06 Olympics at the same venue, Weir placed second in the short program, only to dash his medal hopes with a sub-par free skate.

For Lysacek, the tale was reversed: a disastrous short program counteracted a superb free, leaving him just off the podium in fourth place.

Neither is the favorite in Turin. With world champion Brian Joubert out of the mix, having skipped the Trophee Eric Bompard with a virus, that honor belongs to Japanese champion Daisuke Takahashi, who sits atop the Grand Prix rankings.

Weir and Lysacek will also contend with 16-year-old Patrick Chan of Canada, who clinched the third-highest Grand Prix total; two-time world champion Stéphane Lambiel, the enigmatic Swiss who is struggling with his triple Axel but qualified fifth; and Belgian Kevin van der Perren, who earned the sixth position by defeating Joubert in the free skate and grabbing a silver medal at Skate Canada. (Weir and Lysacek qualified in the second and fourth positions, respectively.)

For the Americans, the difference could be the quadruple toe loop, a jump the 22-year-old Lysacek has resolutely tried in both his short and free programs this fall with mixed results.

"I'm trying to improve the quality and technical difficulty of my skating," Lysacek said. "That's why the quad is in there. But what can I tell you, quads are tough."

Weir, who says he regularly trains the jump, opted for clean skates, earning high Grade of Execution (GOE) scores and winning two Grand Prix events, his first since 2004.

"I got asked a million times about a quad," the 23-year-old Weir said in a message to his fans. "I have decided that I don't want to answer the question anymore... I will do it when I'm ready. I skated two clean competitions without a quad, won two gold medals and am happy. I'll take it."

The two have already met once this season, at the Cup of China in November. They finished one-two, with Weir edging Lysacek by 2.42 points after winning the free skate by 4.17. Skating to Yoav Goren's "Love is War," Weir earned a season-best 151.98 points. From a scoring point of view, his biggest flaws were simple step sequences, with his circular rating just a level one.

Entering the free with a slight edge after the short program, Lysacek amassed 147.81 points skating to "Tosca." The program, while solid, was less clean than Weir's. He fell on an opening quad, sustaining a -3 GOE -- instead of earning the element's base value, nine points, he came away with six, plus an additional one-point deduction.

That difference alone may have given Weir the win, since the skaters' program component scores have tended to be in the same range. This isn't a case of athlete vs. artiste.

"The quad is talked about a lot, and it's a very difficult element, but it's not more or less important than the other elements of a program," Lysacek said. "I'm proud of what I've accomplished with the quad in both programs.

"I feel that by the 2010 Olympics, I will need the quad in both programs to be on the medal stand. That's why I'm training the quad along with the other elements, to make my programs stronger."

Arguably, Lysacek's devotion to the jump -- which he landed twice at the 2007 U.S. Championship in Spokane -- cost him not one, but two wins this season. Takahashi relegated Lysacek to silver at Skate America after the American fell on the move in his short program.

But veteran coach Frank Carroll, who trains Lysacek in El Segundo, Calif., stated the case in blunt terms.

"Look, if you don't want to try the tough stuff, then you should get out of the business," he said. "Evan does the quad consistently in practice. He can do beautiful triple Lutz-triple toe combinations, but I've seen him fall on them, too. Ice is slippery, and if you're going to make a mistake, you might as well make it on the toughest stuff."

For Weir, this fall was about redemption. After slipping to third at the 2007 U.S. Championships (behind Lysacek and Ryan Bradley) and eighth at the 2007 World Championships in Tokyo, he needed to re-establish himself internationally.

To that end, he amicably parted ways with his coach of ten years, Priscilla Hill, and moved to Wayne, N.J., to train under Galina Zmievskaya, famous for coaching Viktor Petrenko and Oksana Baiul to Olympic victories. Petrenko, who is Zmievskaya's son-in-law and an experienced technical specialist, assists Weir with technique.

"It's the first time in a long time that I feel really comfortable on the ice, and I think it's due to a new training regimen and just harder work in general," Weir said. "I feel that I'm back.... I'm happy I made the right decisions this season."

It's hard to argue with success. With his finest Grand Prix season ever under his belt, Weir is heading into Turin -- and Saint Paul -- brimming with confidence and taking satisfaction against those who may have written him off too early.