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Lysacek hopes to strike gold in adopted hometown

Skater brings fine-tuned programs and newfound "freedom" to L.A.

Evan Lysacek and coach Frank Carroll.
Evan Lysacek and coach Frank Carroll. (Lorrie Parker)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/23/2009) - The thought of winning the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships at the Staples Center, the same arena where he attends Lakers games, leaves Evan Lysacek almost speechless.

"It would just mean a lot," the two-time U.S. champion said after his morning practice today. "It would be, well, just a really emotional thing."

The Chicago native, who moved to L.A. in 2003 to train under Frank Carroll in El Segundo, has adopted the city as a second home town, blogging for the Los Angeles Times and making new friends far outside his rink.

"The people here are just so loving and supportive," he said. "In my blog, I'll mention local places I like to go, and the next time I'm there all these super trendy people will make an announcement, 'Here's Evan!'

"So, of course I want to do my best, but this season has been so unpredictable, even with a perfect performance you don't know what's going to happen. I haven't even given [winning] a thought, because it's just so far from my control."

In recent weeks, the 23-year-old skater has done everything in his power to put a disappointing third-place finish at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships behind him.

"He didn't sit around and whine, 'Oh, I'm going in to worlds as the third American boy,'" Carroll said. "He got down to work, he got on with things."

Lysacek's business-like attitude paid off with two fine performances at the 2009 Four Continents Championships, where he placed second to Canada's Patrick Chan and defeated U.S. teammates Jeremy Abbott and Brandon Mroz. When Carroll went to the Netherlands in early March to accompany student Laney Diggs at a competition, Lysacek traveled to Toronto to work with Lori Nichol.

"I wanted to get out of the craziness," he said. "We actually trained at Richmond Hill, outside of Toronto. Lori's family lives on a beautiful lake. It's a serene environment. We spent so much time [working] one-on-one. I came home really prepared and skating great.

"I love working with Lori; she's a great choreographer, but what many people don't know is she's also a really good coach. She's very good technically."

That week, with up to six hours a day on the ice, helped Lysacek fine-tune the programs originally created by Tatiana Tarasova in Moscow last summer.

"We worked on [having] freedom, just pushing out," he said. "As a skater, there are times you want to do things with perfect control. It's like, I have to make this a perfect little Choctaw. She just said, 'Skate free.' Slowly, one hour at a time, I was letting go of that control.

'Especially in my short program [to Ravel's "Bolero"], it's so rhythmic, I would say, 'But I'm off the beat,' and she'd say, 'So you can get back on the next beat.' We got a lot of good stuff done. Now I'm really happy with the programs."

Lysacek had rare words of praise for the international judging system, saying its frequent clarifications and outright changes encourages skaters to keep their programs from getting stale.

"Sometimes you can get bored with your programs by the time worlds comes around, but with the new rules, we're having to tweak and change things. The positive is it's keeping us fresh," he said.

But the system is a double-edged sword. Lysacek's version of the three-and-a-half revolution triple Axel has been downgraded this season by technical panels at several competitions, costing him placements and possibly a spot at the Grand Prix Final.

"We did focus on the triple Axel a lot after Skate America and Skate Canada," he said. "We had as many judges and callers as we could come out [to the rink] and look at the mark [on the ice]. Not a person said it looked cheated."

Lysacek and Carroll concluded the location of the jumps was the problem, that panels might be viewing it from a bad angle.

"I used to do one [triple Axel] in front of the panel, and one in a corner," he explained. "Now we've moved both to the same place, right in front of them."

The only cloud on the skater's horizon here is a sore left foot which has prevented him from practicing his toe loop and Salchow for the last few weeks.

"I feel good. I just have to be careful," he said. "It's just sore. I'm an athlete, if I felt perfect, I'd be worried."

The foot has made a quad toe loop in his free program here uncertain, although Carroll said more often than not, his student nails the four-revolution jump in training.

"I encourage him to do the quad all the time," the coach said. "He did a beautiful one at Four Continents. I think he'll definitely do it at the Olympics and he's try to do it here, depending on the circumstances.

"The quad is part of his repertoire, he does it easily, there's no reason not to do it."

No reason, except that IJS slams skaters that try the jump and don't fully complete its rotations. Carroll, for one, thinks the system's emphasis is misplaced.

"If you do a quad, and land with a gorgeous back and flow, but [the caller] thinks your foot was under rotated, you can lose five points more than someone who does a quad, puts his hand down and stumbles out," Carroll said. "There, have I got myself in trouble yet?"

While this week is important, Lysacek -- like many skaters here -- is looking ahead to the 2010 Olympics, to be held in Vancouver, the site of the recent Four Continents.

"That's the buzz," he said. "For all of us, the second half of the season has heightened importance. You want to do well. The Olympics are only a year away.

"In Vancouver, we were in the Olympic house. It's giving me chills just talking about it right now."