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Lysacek masters the art of reinvention

U.S. men's champion says get ready for some surprises

Reigning U.S. men's champion, Evan Lysacek.
Reigning U.S. men's champion, Evan Lysacek. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(08/12/2008) - It had been a difficult day for two-time U.S. men's champion Evan Lysacek. A close family friend had passed away earlier and he apologized for being late with his call. An offer was extended to reschedule the interview, but he said he wanted to talk because it was important he promote an upcoming show that bears his name: Smucker's Presents and An Evening of Hope with Evan Lysacek and Friends, scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Ill. The show will benefit the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund in collaboration with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois.

Joseph was "a friend I skated with in Chicago and I knew basically since the day I started skating," says Lysacek, 23, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. At the age of eight, Joseph was diagnosed with cancer. While she battled it, she was granted wishes from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, one of which was skating with Kurt Browning and Scott Hamilton, "who were absolute idols of hers."

Joseph was able to defeat the cancer and go on with her life, studying journalism in college with the plan of becoming a writer. But the cancer returned, and she died this past February at the age of 21 of soft tissue sarcoma. Lysacek and his parents teamed up with Joseph's family to create the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund and this event will benefit Make-A-Wish, an organization that grants wishes to children dealing with terminal or serious illnesses.

"Make-A-Wish was very close to their hearts, and it's an organization that's very close to my heart," says Lysacek, who keeps in touch with many of the youngsters he's met over the past seven years he's worked with the organization.

Joining Lysacek in the show will be U.S. ice dance champions, world and Olympic medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto; former U.S. and world ladies champion Kimmie Meissner; former U.S. pair champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski; former world ice dance champion Shae-Lynn Bourne; former U.S. men's and pairs champion Rudy Galindo; as well as several other skaters.

"I know September is a really tough time for skaters to get to a show, when they're trying to get ready to compete. We've got some amazing people who've agreed to come," he says. Information about the show and tickets are available at www.stephaniejoseph.org. There are benefactor packages for the beautiful skyboxes at the arena. Corporate sponsors have donated some very cool things for gift bags.

Skating has been an uplifting refuge while coping with personal tragedy, and Lysacek has been quite busy over the past couple of months. In July, he made two trips to Japan, first to skate in Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa's Friends on Ice show in Yokahama, and then in Mao Asada's shows in Nagoya.

"We got a chance to train in Nagoya, where they train at this phenomenal rink, which is like walking into a five-star hotel," Lysacek says.

In between the two Japan trips, he also performed in Seoul, Korea. "The fans in Korea were unbelievable. I've never experienced anything like that in skating," he says. "They're just so into it, and they're so enthusiastic but respectful and appreciative of us being there. We appreciate them more than they even know. It was a fantastic show."

In June, Lysacek headed to Russia, where he worked with Tatiana Tarasova for nearly three weeks. She choreographed a new short program for him, set to "Bolero," and a long program set to "Rhapsody in Blue." It was a different creative collaboration than he'd ever experienced, and he says it suited him perfectly at this point in his career.

"I didn't really have input choosing the music. I didn't really have very much input in the choreography. That's exactly what I wanted," Lysacek says. "It was exactly what I asked for. I asked Tatiana to basically reinvent my skating and reinvent my style. Hopefully she's proud of the product. I really am working hard to make me proud of the product I'm putting out because I want to represent her well. She's so selective in who she works with that I really do want to represent her well.

"It's taking a lot of work to change and adapt my style to the programs that I have, but I think it's kind of cool. It's like when someone gives you a gift, and you think, 'I never would have gotten this for myself.'"

Lysacek says the programs were actually done within the first week to 10 days, and the remainder of his time in Russia was spent working on his style. He traveled there alone, but he says his training team at home in Los Angeles has been extremely receptive to working with what he brought back, even if the "new Evan" is a bit of a surprise.

"The costumes are not like anything I've ever worn in my life," he says. "I tried my best to keep my mouth shut, but sometimes I had to open it. All I can say is she did exactly what I asked her to do, and that's reinvent my skating."

Why reinvent himself when the old version was so successful? Lysacek says reinvention is part of growth that all athletes go through in one form or another. He says he'd overbooked himself the past couple of years and didn't give himself the time to reflect on what he really wanted to put on the ice.

Last season started out well but "sort of unraveled at the end," he says. An injury forced him to withdraw from the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

"I felt it was time for a change to sort of shake things up a little bit," he explains. "I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity we all have to sort of reinvent. I'm working as hard as I can right now on making it my own.

"I'm really happy on the ice being able to skate every day," he adds. "With a lot of really tragic stuff that's been going on around me the last few months, I am really happy to be on the ice and really appreciative for that opportunity."