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Lysacek heals wounds with "Stars on Ice"

U.S. champion reveals he is a cutthroat charade player

It's always a 'thriller' when reigning U.S. champion Evan Lysacek skates.
It's always a 'thriller' when reigning U.S. champion Evan Lysacek skates. (Akiko Tamura)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/10/2008) - Evan Lysacek isn't modest, at least when it comes to his abilities at charades.

"Oh come on, I'm the best," he said to cast mate Kimberly Meissner. "[Ben] Agosto might be the best actor, but I'm the best player."

With the Smucker's Stars on Ice bunch traveling in different buses as they wind up the show's U.S. tour, the vehicle carrying Olympic-eligible skaters Lysacek; Meissner; and Tanith Belbin passes the time with some retro fun, courtesy of the I Love Lucy-era parlor game.

"What goes on, on the bus, is not necessarily what everyone thinks," Belbin, who has dated Lysacek for more than a year, laughed. "The other bus plays Guitar Hero [a music video game] the whole time, so I guess we took it back a little ways."

"We are so good, now we just talk in charades," Meissner added. "Ben is on my team; Tanith and Evan, who are so connected in the mind it's just wrong, are on the other team."

The eligibles joined Stars on Ice after the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Gothenburg, and have injected a new energy into the final U.S. stops.

"Many skaters have had a difficult time adapting to the demands of a professional tour," David Hoffis, the long-time tour director, said. "This season, not only has Sasha [Cohen] become a brilliant headliner and exceeded all of our expectations, but Evan, Kimmie and Tanith and Ben have fit in incredibly well and added a lot."

For Lysacek, who withdrew from Gothenburg after injuring his left forearm, elbow and shoulder, the tour is a creative outlet for pent-up frustration.

"I'm getting much better; I've been working my way back every day," the U.S. champion said. "I was off [the ice] for two weeks, but I wanted to make sure I didn't miss any of this commitment, because I was pretty devastated having to sit home and watch worlds.

"Obviously I wasn't going to be totally ready to come back and go on tour, but I skated one day at home, and then I came and joined them. My second day on the ice was my first show. It's been probably the best thing I could have done to take my mind off of it. I've almost, with the exception of doing some interviews, forgotten about it."

Performing with the tour has been a longtime goal for Lysacek, who vividly remembers his childhood trips to Stars on Ice.

"It's a really tight-knit cast and for the eligible skaters to join it, we are really humble because it's been a legacy in our sport," he said. "I went to see if before I even started skating. We used to go watch every year, and to be a part of it now is sort of surreal."

The withdrawal from Gothenburg was a particular blow, said Lysacek, because he was in top form before a hard fall training his triple Axel dashed his hopes.

"I saw some of it, and I really wish I was there, because I was skating really well," he said. "That was the hardest thing, not just that I missed it, but that I totally regrouped after [placing third at] ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February.

"I shook up my training schedule, worked really hard, got really strong. I was going for a gold medal, thinking everyone would be in peak form. That's how I was training and, I don't know how to say this, but to see how the event unfolded was even more disappointing to me."

Only Canadian Jeffrey Buttle, who easily won the title with two clean programs, performed at his best in Gothenburg. But, as Lysacek noted, that's the nature of the sport these days.

"[The men's event] is not being dominated by one person; right now its eight, nine skaters, and whoever has the best skate that day can win," he said.

"It's encouraging to all of us to try and push ourselves, because we know there's a chance to be the best. No one can really predict what's going to happen at this point, and it's a good thing, because there's still no clear-cut favorite going in to the [2010] Vancouver Olympics. The group at the top has been competing with each other for the last decade or more and we all have had ups and downs, every single one of us."

The two-time world bronze medalist (2005 and 2006) will next compete at the Japan Open, a pro-am team event to be held on April 20th in Tokyo. He, along with Meissner; U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu; and six-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge comprise the U.S. team, and will face off against a Japanese team headed by world champion Mao Asada, and a European squad featuring two-time world champion Stéphane Lambiel.

Lysacek will perform his free skate to Puccini's "Tosca," which he used to win the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships this January in a tie-breaker over Johnny Weir.

"There are still times when my elbow and shoulder will be real sore, but I think I've been able to get back," he said. "We're practicing, Kimmie and Todd and I, and it's encouraging to be training with other people. In the past when I've had injuries it's been a slow rehabilitation process, and being with friends makes it a lot easier."

Lysacek hopes to execute his triple Axel combination in Tokyo, and is picking up a little extra coaching from 1998 Olympic champion Ilia Kulik, who is also performing with Stars on Ice.

"Yeah, Ilia is helping me get back with the triple Axel; he has some secret Russian tips I can't say," Lysacek laughed. "Kimmie is pushing me through my program run-throughs, we have our little team."

Lysacek kicks off Stars on Ice each night with the first solo performance, to a Michael Jackson medley. Creating the program was a group effort, with Lysacek, Belbin, choreographer J.T. Horenstein and fashion designers Richie Rich and Traver Rains of Heatherette all contributing.

"I'm not a dancer, by any means, but I wanted to do something fun," Lysacek said. "The costume is designed and made by Heatherette, and it demanded something sort of funky.

"This was our favorite idea; it's like a spin-off of Chris Brown's performance at the VMA's [MTV Video Music Awards], which we thought was so cool. First came the costume and music, and second came the choreography."

The tall, lanky skater admitted some of Jackson's moves, including his famous "moon walking," didn't come easily.

"It took a lot of different kinds movements from me; the Michael Jackson stuff was harder than the hip hop, because hip hop is freer and you don't have to be so precise," he explained.

"To get me to move my hips, it was my God, my hips aren't moving! It's a little bit different feeling."