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Evan vs. Johnny: Round three

Rivals set to square off in Saint Paul

Johnny Weir takes a lean on a taxi cab.
Johnny Weir takes a lean on a taxi cab. (Kathleen Bangs)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/17/2008) - In teleconferences with the press, Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir both pronounced themselves fit to battle for the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships next week.

"I feel like I'm in good shape physically," said Lysacek, who wrested the title from three-time champion Weir last season.

"I've been riding my bike a lot, going to the beach, trying to be outside in the fresh air as much as I can. I'm trying to stay healthy and in a good mental frame of mind. I got a big boost of confidence winning the bronze medal at my first Grand Prix Final (in December)."

The 22 year-old, who trains in sunny Southern California under veteran coach Frank Carroll, has the edge over the New Jersey based Weir in terms of outdoor relaxation. But since taking a four-day break over Christmas, Weir has been grinding away to perfect the quad jump he may need to unseat his rival.

"I'm going 100% for that title," the 23 year-old, who won the U.S. Championship 2004-2006, said: "My training regimen last season was a little bit lazy. It was hard for me to get myself up to work every day, because it was after a long Olympic season and a long summer of touring.

"My new coach, Galina Zmievskaya, is very, very demanding and very structured and it's a completely different way of working for me. I've been going in to all of my competitions very prepared; I can go and really fight."

Despite winning two Grand Prix titles this fall without a quad, Weir hopes his renewed work ethic will help him land the jump in his free skate (to Yoav Goren's "Love is War") in Saint Paul.

"We are training the quad toe, which should make people happy," he said with a laugh. "I am planning on doing it. I land it more than I miss it in my program run through and I'm excited to add that. Of course, at Christmastime I had my days of vacation and I gained that Christmas weight a little bit, and it took a week to get that off. I've had my ups-and-downs since the Grand Prix Final."

Weir, who has yet to attempt a four-revolution jump in competition this season, placed fourth at the Final behind Stephane Lambiel, Daisuke Takahashi and Lysacek. Earlier last fall, he won both Cup of China and Cup of Russia by executing clean, conservative programs relative to his competition.

Lysacek has taken a different approach, putting quads in both his short and long programs with mixed results. The U.S. champ placed second to Weir at Cup of China.

"The name of the game isn't really being perfect anymore," Lysacek said. "For me, the most important thing is to put everything I'm capable of into my programs. Going for that difficulty is almost more important than holding back and doing something safe that is going to be clean."

The skater even thinks the quad could be a key to boosting the sport's popularity, which has taken a dive since the late 1990's in terms of media coverage and television ratings.

"Since the 6.0 (judging system) was eliminated, we've had a hard time; that was sort of our brand, the perfect score," Lysacek said. "When people find out I'm a figure skater the first thing they ask me is, 'Do you do the quad?' It's important to me to put it out every time, to show we are pushing the limits of our sport and that we are true athletes. I think it's cool, a new brand."

Weir seems to have come around to Lysacek's way of thinking, perhaps with prodding from Zmievskaya and Viktor Petrenko, the 1992 Olympic champion who assists Zmievskaya, his mother-in-law, with Weir's training.

"As much as my bones hate me for it, I am training the quad in the program on a daily basis and also out of the program on a daily basis," he said. "We're also (training) the quad Salchow and working on making the triple Lutz and triple flip bigger, so maybe next season we can start working on quads with those jumps."

Both athletes know the spotlight will be squarely on their quads and their rivalry in Saint Paul, and both are playing it cool.

"I think the most important thing is something my coach (Frank Carroll) tells me, which is, 'Mind your own business in every respect of the word; don't think about someone else, don't talk about anyone else,'" Lysacek said. "The less energy I spend worrying about someone else, the more I can put into my own skating. That's where I want my energy to go right now."

Weir was a bit more direct.

"I think there is a rivalry, we're competing for the same title," he said. "I think it's exciting for figure skating and, especially, U.S. men's skating. That's where I see the rivalry ending. It doesn't matter to me so much what he does in his life or on the ice or what his results are; he's just another person out there, in my opinion."