Top story lines for this figure skating season
Imagine turning on the TV and instead of seeing figure skaters donning sequins and ruffles, you saw a skater wearing a NASCAR-style bodysuit filled with sponsor endorsements.
Then, instead of performing to classical music, each skater would go out and attempt the most difficult jump combination he or she could do. A panel of judges (preferably not Marie-Reine Le Gougne, but perhaps a celebrity -- hello, Paula Abdul?) would crown the champion.
If Evan Lysacek has his way, this might not be some futuristic dream. It's actually a part of a proposal he has submitted in hopes of getting figure skating to be part of the X Games generation. Lysacek, the 2007 U.S. champion, says he's committed to bringing skating back to the forefront of the American public, and perhaps an X Games format might be the way to do it.
"I sent in a proposal to have skating be a part of the X Games in 2009," Lysacek said. "I think a different format would help."
Skating has always been the glamour sport of the Winter Olympics, and the sport really took off when Tonya Harding's thugs whacked Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 U.S. Championships. But since the judging scandal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, interest has waned.
Before Lysacek was crowned the 2007 champion, he told a group of reporters that if he did win the title he would do whatever he could to be an ambassador for the sport. This is one way he's showing he didn't just offer lip service to that promise.
He also wants to show the American public just how difficult the sport is. A jump competition, in which skaters would be judged based on height, speed, execution and difficulty, would help show how physically tasking skating can be.
"There's no reason why skating should just be for little girls," Lysacek said. "I see 7- and 8-year-old boys who play hockey at our rink all the time and they watch us practice and they're just mesmerized by what we do."
Lysacek has told a handful of skating friends about the concept. Fellow 2007 champion Kimmie Meissner said she was excited when she heard about the idea.
"He told me about it when we were on tour, and I thought, 'That is cool,'" Meissner said.
For those of you not willing to wait, here's a list of a few things you should expect to see in the near future, some as soon as this weekend at Skate America in Reading, Pa.:
1. Will change be good for Lysacek?
You wouldn't think change would be the operative word in Lysacek's vocabulary after winning his first national title. But he's gladly welcoming it. For the first time in six years, Lysacek will start the season with new music for both his short and long programs.
Typically, skaters start each season with new routines, but Lysacek had not been changing his music so frequently. He spent the last two seasons skating to "Carmen," and was more than ready to try something new.
At his first competition of the season, Skate America, Lysacek will unveil his new short program to music from the sound tracks of "Legend of Zorro" and "Mask of Zorro." His long program is from Puccini's "Tosca."
Lysacek, who trains in Los Angeles with Frank Carroll, trekked out to Toronto for 10 days this summer to choreograph the routines with Lori Nichol. But for the first three days of his trip, his skates were lost, so all they did was listen to music.
"We probably listened to hundreds of discs," Lysacek said. "It actually was good, because once I got my skates, I felt confident with the music we selected and I was ready to skate."
His music has changed, but Lysacek will continue to have a quad jump in his routines. When he landed a quad at nationals in January, it marked the first time he achieved that feat in competition. A quad toe is in both programs.
"He's been skating extraordinarily well," Carroll said. "You're always apprehensive when a skater hasn't done a program in competition, but he's been working very hard. In fact, the other day I had to tell him, 'Evan, if you do one more triple axel, I'm going to grab you by the hair and pull you off the ice myself.' I mean, he had already done like 50 of them."
2. Can Meissner defend her U.S. title?
Meissner, the 2007 U.S. champion and 2006 world champion, is the early-season favorite to win the national title in 2008. Tough technically, Meissner has been working on improving her artistic expression on the ice. She spent a couple of weeks with Carroll and even worked with a former Bolshoi ballerina.
As usual, she will have her work cut out for her. Emily Hughes, who was just two points shy of beating Meissner at the 2007 championships, will be back and is working with a new coach, Mark Mitchell. Hughes is also adjusting to college life as a Harvard freshman. There's also newcomer Caroline Zhang, the 2007 world junior champion who is making her senior debut at Skate America.
If Meissner is to improve internationally from her fourth-place showing at the 2007 worlds, she will have to take on Japan's Mao Asada and reigning, but often erratic, world champ Miki Ando. South Korea's Yu-Na Kim, coached by two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, is also in the mix among contenders.
3. Will Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto finally win a world title?
They've won silver and bronze at the world championships, and have just one last spot on the podium left. Belbin and Agosto hope a music shift to classical music (Chopin) for their free dance will sit better with judges than their "That's Entertainment" and "Amelie" routines last season.
They brought ice dancing to the forefront in the United States by winning a silver medal in the 2006 Olympics, the best finish for a U.S. team, and need to return to that form. The reigning world gold and silver medalists are not competing this season, making Belbin and Agosto the early favorites.
4. How will Caroline Zhang and Mirai Nagasu fare at the senior level?
Much was made of these pint-sized California girls when they won the two top spots at the junior level at nationals and worlds. (Nagasu won the U.S. junior title; Zhang claimed the world junior crown.) They're both elegant and have a maturity on the ice that exceeds their time on earth (14 years). The question really is, how will these two handle the pressure from U.S. Figure Skating, which has desperately been seeking top young talent to help revive the sport? One interesting side note, Zhang is already taking interesting steps to climb up the skating ranks. Her agent? Shep Goldberg, longtime manager for Michelle Kwan.
5. Can an American pairs team stand on the world podium?
It will be awfully tough. Rena Inoue and John Baldwin had a disappointing showing at nationals and are skipping the Grand Prix circuit this season. They plan to compete at the U.S. championships in January in St. Paul, Minn., but it probably would be better to have their programs critiqued and tweaked throughout the season. They are the most experienced U.S. team. Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, the 2007 U.S. champions, didn't win even their sectional event last season (they placed 12th in the first trip to the world championships). One tough-looking team is Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker. Together, this Colorado-based duo won junior titles at the nationals and worlds. McLaughlin and Brubaker will need to step it up if they are to make it at the next level, but as they showed in a season-ending televised event, they won't shy away from trying triple twists, even when they aren't in front of judges.
Amy Rosewater, a freelance writer based in Baltimore, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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