'Angry' Goebel looks to turn meltdown into medal
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Timothy Goebel wore glasses instead of his usual contact lenses the morning after a horrendous performance at Skate America a few weekends ago. His eyes were tired and his face pale from lack of sleep. Still, his tone was defiant.
"I'm OK," he said. "The last time I had a supposedly career-jeopardizing skate, I came back and won the silver at worlds.
"Now I'm angry, and when I'm angry, I skate better. [The Skate America performance] was a fluke. I've never done a program like that, even in practice."
Goebel, the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time World Championship runner-up, was dubbed the "Quad King" after becoming the first U.S. skater to land a quadruple jump in competition. But after two seasons of physical problems, equipment snafus and a demoralizing split with former coach Frank Carroll, Goebel knows some people consider him deposed royalty.
Despite all that, Goebel maintains that his best skate is ahead of him. He has a limited amount of time to demonstrate that. The 25-year-old says this will be his last competitive season; he intends to go to college next year to pursue a career in finance or law.
Goebel is one of six probable contenders for three U.S. Olympic team slots, along with defending U.S. champion Johnny Weir; rising star and world bronze medalist Evan Lysacek, who now trains with Carroll; veteran and three-time national champ Michael Weiss; and dark horses Matt Savoie and Ryan Jahnke.
"I'm going to have to step it up to make the team," Goebel said.
His meltdown in the free skate at the opening Grand Prix event of the season was painful to watch. Goebel landed a triple flip to open the program, but fell attempting a quadruple Salchow, once his trademark trick. The energy seemed to drain from his body as he singled or doubled several more planned triple jumps.
"There's something clearly wrong tonight," commentator Dick Button said, sounding appalled. "He's not a guy who pops jumps like this."
There was no smooching or weeping on the bench in the "kiss and cry" area when Goebel's scores were announced. Instead, he sat hunched over in speechless disbelief until halfway through the next skater's program as coach Audrey Weisiger gave him an animated lecture.
"I said, 'Congratulations. You just achieved something new,'" said Weisiger, who began working with Goebel at her base in Fairfax, Va., this past December. "You have to have a sense of humor. Here's a guy who's landed more quads than anyone else, and he's doing singles.
"I got in his face and told him he had to start believing in himself. I wasn't chewing him out. He didn't skate like that on purpose. But he has to get out there and take a swing at the ball. He's so used to being good all the time."
Weisiger said muscle memory from the old days has been apparent in Goebel's practices. He's landing the quad Salchow consistently now after a period of 18 months when he didn't even try it, and is working to ratchet up the quality of his spins and footwork, which carry more weight under skating's new scoring system.
Yet Goebel's last truly complete performance might have been at the 2003 World Championships in Washington, D.C., where he won his second consecutive silver medal.
Generally viewed as more of an athlete than an artist, Goebel earned 5.7s and 5.8s out of a possible 6 in presentation to go with high technical marks as he skated to "An American in Paris."
"It's easier to storm the castle than defend it," he said afterward, clearly proud of his comeback from the national championships several weeks before, where he had fallen twice in the free skate and gone 0-for-3 on quad attempts.
It's taking longer to scrape himself off the ice this time.
Goebel, originally from suburban Chicago, moved to Cleveland with his mother, Ginny, when he was 11 to train with five-time world champion Carol Heiss Jenkins.
Unlike most skaters at his level, Goebel attended a public school while training, and he was a National Honor Society student. He wears his Catholic faith openly in the form of a crucifix and several religious medals, attends Mass twice a week and murmurs a prayer on the ice before each competitive program. He doted on his Shih Tzu dog, Toby, who died recently at the astounding age of 20.
Goebel was world junior champion in 1996 and placed third at senior U.S. nationals in 1999, the same year he made history by nailing the quad Salchow at the world championships. He finished 12th there.
A string of productive seasons began when Goebel switched allegiances to Carroll, but the relationship began to fray in 2003 as Goebel struggled with one physical ailment after another and tried a dozen pairs of boots in search of footwear that worked. A low point came at the 2004 national championships, where he withdrew after the short program.
Goebel said overuse injuries in his ankles, knees and hips threw him out of alignment like a wrecked car. At times, he was unable to train for longer than 45-minute stretches, and gulped muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medication just to stay upright. Yet he was still billed as an event headliner and felt pressure to keep competing all season and touring afterward.
"I should have taken a year off," he said last week. "Everything was always a Band-Aid to see if I could survive the next event. By the time I pulled out of nationals, I was broken."
Carroll and Goebel severed their relationship in November 2004. The coach characterized the parting as a mutual decision at the time. "We're fine with each other as people, but it got to a point where it was difficult to work together and it probably was not the best environment for him," Carroll told the Los Angeles Times. "And so we just decided to call it a day."
But Goebel said he considered himself "fired" and felt Carroll had lost confidence in him. "The last three years have been miserable, but I'm where I'm supposed to be now," he said.
That would be in Virginia with Weisiger, who coached Weiss for 18 years.
"I'm just helping him get back in the saddle," she said. "He's one of the greatest skaters of our generation, but he was a physical mess when I started working with him ... an orphaned puppy. Part of my job has been convincing him that he can be the Tim that we all know again."
Goebel also is working with Russian choreographer Tatiana Tarasova in Simsbury, Conn.
Weisiger said that Goebel has made tremendous progress but that he wasn't quite "ready to do it under pressure" at Skate America. She will recommend that Goebel drop the quad from his short program in favor of a triple-triple combination and scrap the unflattering -- and apparently unlucky -- outfit he wore for the free skate. His next competition will be the Trophée Eric Bompard Nov. 17-20 in Paris.
Goebel said he knows the wear and tear on his body might mean he'll have trouble getting out of bed in 20 years, but said he has no regrets about making his name on the high-impact quad. The tangible proof lies safely tucked away in a safe-deposit box in Chicago.
"It's all been worth it," he said. "I have an Olympic medal. That's something not very many people can say."
Bonnie DeSimone is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.