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For Weir, title may be four turns away

Quad could make the difference on Sunday

Johnny Weir might need to complete a quad jump to overtake Evan Lysacek for the men's title.
Johnny Weir might need to complete a quad jump to overtake Evan Lysacek for the men's title. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/26/2008) - When it comes to clean quads in competition, the score stands Evan Lysacek -- 3; Johnny Weir -- 0.

Both have earned significant points trying the risky, four-revolution jump. But only Lysacek has landed it with no deductions from judges, earning the element's full base value (nine points for a quad toe) three times.

Not everything in men's skating hinges on the four-revolution leap, but the way the media has focused on it this week in Saint Paul, you might think it's the be-all, end-all. Lysacek, the defending champion who enters Sunday's free skate 1.35 points behind Weir, thinks the obsession with the big jump is fine.

"I think it's become an amazingly exciting sport over the last few years, and for me the quad is important," he said.

"I think [U.S. Figure Skating] lost its brand with the 6.0 [judging system]. That's what everyone knew, whether they had ever watched skating or not. It's tough to rope people in if you don't have a brand, and I think the brand now is the quad. Any interview I do, any time I meet someone and tell them I'm a skater, all they know is quad. That's it.

"So I think it's important for us to sort of represent that and not back down from it."

Historically, U.S. men have hardly been a quad squad. Only one American -- 2002 Olympic bronze medalist Timothy Goebel, who is now retired -- has truly made the jump a signature move. In yesterday's short programs, there were no clean quads from any of the 18 skaters.

"If Evan lands the quad and Johnny doesn't even try it, it might make a difference," Goebel said.

"But I don't think it will make that big a difference. Johnny is so artistic; his other jumps look so effortless and his quality is very high. The quad will play a part if Evan lands it, though."

The former "quad king" agrees with Lysacek that more skaters should try the move.

"When the Olympics is on television, people are watching who know nothing about the subtleties of skating quality, so if athletes are doing easy stuff, it's not good for the viewer ship," he reasoned.

Back in 2002, when Goebel landed three quads - a Salchow and two toe loops - in his Olympic free skate, high-flying Russians Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko set the standard. There was no question that quads were necessary to reach the podium.

"With the new judging system, there are good and bad things that happen," Goebel said of the international judging system, installed after the 2002 Olympic pairs scandal. "One of the negative consequences is that there's not enough incentive to do [quads] now."

Among today's top competitors, 2007 world champion Brian Joubert, two-time world champ Stephane Lambiel, and newly crowned European champ Tomas Verner, among others, often execute the jump alone or in combination.

Since nailing a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination in his winning "Carmen" free skate at the 2007 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Lysacek has sought to join their ranks, trying the jump in six major competitions.

In the short program here, he two-footed the landing and then tacked on a double, instead of a triple, toe. The judges deducted 1.71 points for less-than-perfect execution, but Lysacek still earned 8.59 points.

"The name of the game isn't really being perfect anymore," he 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."

Weir's relationship with the quad has been less committed.

The three-time U.S. champ has never landed the move cleanly in competition, and has only tried it three times: twice at the 2006 worlds, in the qualifying round and free skate, and at the U.S. Championships last season.

All three times he stood up on the move, but was deducted for imperfect landings.

Weir has yet to attempt the quad this season and has won two events -- Cup of China and Cup of Russia -- without it.

Over the years, the skater has practiced both the quad toe loop and Salchow, and many fans have seen him land the jumps in his run-throughs and warm-ups.

"I've given the same answer for five years, which is I'll do the quad when I'm ready," he said rather tersely in the fall.

This week, Weir has softened his resistance to questions.

"Yes, I am planning the quad [toe loop] in my long program here," he said. "That should make everyone very happy. I've been training it on a daily basis, and I'm landing it much more often than not."

Weir's coach, Galina Zmievskaya, is a strong proponent of adding the jump.

"First, we had to make the program clean," she said. "It is more important to do each element perfect and excellent, than to do a quad. Now, we are ready."

We'll see on Sunday if Weir can start to even the score.