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Lysacek leads strong U.S. team in Tokyo

Injury can't keep world champion from his Japanese fans

Evan Lysacek will lead the U.S. contingent in Japan at the Team Trophy.
Evan Lysacek will lead the U.S. contingent in Japan at the Team Trophy. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/13/2009) - Evan Lysacek isn't letting a stress fracture stop him from competing at the ISU World Team Trophy this week in Tokyo.

"Hey, it's OK," he said of his injured left foot, diagnosed just two weeks before the world championships in Los Angeles last month.

Since winning the world title in spectacular fashion before a hometown crowd, Lysacek has been touring with Smucker's Stars on Ice, performing at five stops up to and including the tour finale in Portland, Maine, last Saturday.

"I'm a little limited on what I can do, so I did all jumps on my right foot on the tour," he explained. "I've been sort of giving it a rest and just trying to figure out when I can cast it for a little bit, but it's not a big deal."

In Los Angeles, the injury prevented him from attempting a quad toe loop, but the skater nailed eight triples in his gold medal-winning free program, set to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." He's hoping he'll have similar results in Tokyo.

"I'm really excited," the skater said. "At worlds, when I had adrenaline, I didn't even notice it. I wasn't even thinking about it.

"So this [competition] is icing on the cake. I want to have fun. Brian [Joubert] and a lot of the other skaters who will be there are all my friends. We're on our own respective teams as countries, but we're on a bigger team as a whole as skaters, and it will be cool to cheer each other on.

"Plus, I have a lot of really, really loyal fans in Japan, and I definitely wanted to make sure I got to go to see them. That was so important to me."

Lysacek leads a strong U.S. contingent taking on teams from Canada, China, France, Japan and Russia (the participating countries were determined by criteria set forth by the ISU). Each country fields two men, two ladies, a dance and a pair team. The prize money, totaling US$1 million, is the largest amount ever offered at an ISU event. The winning team splits $200,000; second place is worth $170,000; third gets $160,000; and so on down the line.

Each single skater and pair team will execute a short and free program, with ice dancers performing their original and free dances. There's also an exhibition, including several skaters and teams not competing in the event.

Lysacek will be joined by U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who plans to reinsert the quadruple toe loop in his free program.

"We made a decision not [to do the quad] this season, based on risk, points, that kind of thing," Abbott said. "Now I'm putting the quad in, finally. I'm very grateful to have been invited to Japan to prove I'm a better skater than my 11th-place [finish] at worlds."

Abbott will seek to recapture his early-season form, which led him to the gold medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December.

The American men will face tough competition from Canada's world silver medalist Patrick Chan, as well as France's Joubert, the world bronze medalist, and Takahiko Kozuka of Japan, who won gold at 2008 Skate America.

Coming off a silver medal at worlds, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are favorites in the dance portion of the team event, along with Canadian world bronze medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Like Lysacek, the five-time U.S. dance champions have balanced training with performing with Stars on Ice.

"It's difficult. We found extra ice at local rinks and things like that on tour so we could keep training," Belbin said. "We didn't know anything about [the event] until after worlds, so it's a little bit of a surprise, but we'll do our best."

Both skaters were delighted with their programs in L.A., which put them back on the podium after a fourth-place finish at worlds in 2008.

"We were just really happy we were able to skate well," Agosto said. "Three good performances meant so much to us. Everything else was kind of just not as important as going and performing well and showing everyone that, yes, we're healed [from his back injury], and we're better than we used to be."

U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt heads to the event on a high after placing fifth at her senior worlds debut.

"It hasn't sunk in at all, let me tell you," the 16-year-old said. "It's so weird when people come up to me and say, 'Oh my gosh, I saw you on TV.' It's pretty cool."

There was one glitch to work out before heading to Japan: Flatt's final spin in her free program at worlds didn't count, because she hadn't met an ISU rule requiring three different types of spins. That edict was put in place after the routine, which she brought back from last season, was choreographed.

"Oh well, such is life," Flatt said. "For Japan, we fixed it already. I can't wait. Japan is going to be wonderful, as it always is. It's going to be a fabulous trip."

Flatt is joined by Caroline Zhang, who placed third at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships and won a silver medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships with a sterling free program. They'll take on the formidable trio of world silver medalist Joannie Rochette of Canada, 2007 world champion Miki Ando of Japan and 2008 world champion Mao Asada, also of Japan.

The Cinderella story for Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett continues in Japan. The pair placed ninth at worlds after skating together for less than a year. The newcomers are expected to be pitted against the powerful world silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China, as well as world bronze medalists Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia and former world bronze medalists Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison of Canada.