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Lysacek reflects on connection to 1961 U.S. team

Olympic champion will be on hand for Feb. 17 premiere

Evan Lysacek is among the athletes in contention for the Sullivan Award.
Evan Lysacek is among the athletes in contention for the Sullivan Award. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/11/2011) - Evan Lysacek says he didn't shed many tears winning gold in Vancouver. Watching RISE, the cinematic feature that playing in movie theatres throughout the country on Feb. 17, was a different story.

The 25-year-old reigning Olympic champion never fully considered his connection to the 1961 U.S. world team before he was invited to take part in RISE, which celebrates American figure skating while honoring the 50th anniversary of the loss of 34 members of the U.S. figure skating community in the crash of Sabena Flight 548 en route to the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague.

"Even in our own sport there's not a lot of education on what happened, how [the crash] wiped our sport out, how U.S. skating had to be completely re-built from the ground up," he said.

Participation helped Lysacek realize how close to home the story comes, on two counts: his coach, Frank Carroll, trained under nine-time U.S. ladies champion Maribel Vinson Owen, who perished on the flight along with her two daughters -- also U.S. champions; and he is a recipient of grants from the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund, established in 1961 as a living memorial to those lost. The Fund distributes $300,000 annually to developing figure skaters.

"I said 'yes' to the film without understanding why I was important to the overall storyline," he said. "I wanted to do the project for my coach.

"After seeing the film, and seeing how it ties together and how the story comes full circle -- how much support I've had from the Fund and others have had from it -- finally it made sense to me."

A few weeks after winning gold in Vancouver, Lysacek was filming in New York. That's when it really hit home.

"We had a few very long days filming in a dark skating rink, with one spotlight; they asked me to do a couple of tricks and jumps," he said. "I remembered the Olympics and Frank . . . [my gold medal] was something he had been working for before I was even born. That was huge. In that moment I had a little bit of perspective about being a part of RISE."

The tears flowed when he viewed a DVD of the finished film months later.

"As I watched the movie and realized that through my work with Frank, he had assumed his role as Maribel Vinson, coach and trainer, and I in turn had assumed the role of Frank as her pupil ... that really touched me. I got really emotional watching it."

At the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro last month, Lysacek -- along with the newly crowned U.S. champions and young local skaters -- filmed a RISE tribute program, choreographed by Randy Gardner. It will be shown at the event next week; the music, composed by Peter Calandra and featuring vocals by Joy Askew and Frank Carillo, is available for free download on Soundcloud.

More details about RISE, including a list of participating theaters, can be found on the web site. Tickets for the Feb. 17 event are available at participating theater box offices and online at Fathom Events . Proceeds from RISE will be used to further the mission of U.S. Figure Skating's Memorial Fund.

"All of those exceptionally talented, gifted, promising, good-looking skaters -- the loss of their dream opened the door up to so many other dreams, mine included, through the Memorial Fund," Lysacek said.