Commentary

Drama on the ice? Expect it again in '10

Updated: August 17, 2009, 1:30 PM ET
By Amy Rosewater | Special to ESPN.com

Evan Lysacek is a world champion figure skater and even he finds himself somewhat confused these days.

It seems none of his friends in the skating world is where he used to be, a merry-go-round of coaching changes has swept through the sport, and new faces and old faces seem to be hopping on and off the carousel, as well.

When asked if he knew his friends' whereabouts these days, Lysacek answered with a concise, but telling, response: "No."

[+] EnlargeSasha Cohen
Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesSasha Cohen has not competed since winning a silver medal in the 2006 Torino Olympics.

The skating landscape might seem especially blurry for someone like Lysacek, who is growing into his newly broken-in title as world champion -- a feat no American man had earned since 1996, when Todd Eldredge claimed the crown. Lysacek also recently spent about two weeks traveling in Asia, performing in 12 sold-out shows throughout Japan and South Korea.

When contacted last week for an interview, he was still adjusting to jet lag. Up since 3:30 a.m. in his home in California, Lysacek decided to go to the gym before his practice instead of his usual routine the other way around.

"I saw all of these people in the gym at 5:30 a.m.," Lysacek said. "They are hard-core. I mean, I'm an Olympic athlete and I can't keep up."

How are the rest of us coach potatoes supposed to keep up?

Just in case you thought figure skating was a winter endeavor and nothing major happened in the summer, think again. Here's a quick rundown about the sport with just six months left before the Opening Ceremonies begin in Vancouver:

Kwan is out; Cohen is back

Since there are just two figure skating spots for the U.S. women in Vancouver, and none of the American women is dominating, some skating observers thought it would be good if popular stars Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen tried to return for the 2010 Games. Well, one out of two ain't bad ...

Kwan, who competed in 1998 and 2002 and was forced to withdraw from the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, announced late last month she would not make an Olympic comeback. It was the right choice. There is no doubt she always will be a skating icon and, with five world titles and nine national crowns, she deserves the honor. But she hasn't competed since 2005 and would have had to take a Berlitz course to even come close to mastering the new judging system.

Cohen, meanwhile, has also been out of the competitive skating loop since winning a silver medal in the 2006 Games. Although she took some time off to explore an acting career, she continued to skate professionally in the Smucker's Stars on Ice Tour. An elegant skater, she should be able to keep up with the spins and spirals. But will Cohen, who will be 25 in October, be able to land the triple jumps?

Ah, the judging ...

An ever-present issue at the Olympic Games, the judging system of course will be analyzed and overanalyzed in 2010.

It has changed numerous times since the scandal that rocked the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. So much so, that skaters and coaches find themselves constantly scratching their heads at every event to figure out what a Level 3 spin is or why a skater's footwork sequence was downgraded.

The new system calculates points for each skater, and no longer is there a 6.0 for perfection but rather a score with lots of decimals. One lost art in the sport seems to be the lack of quads. Once deemed to be the future of the sport, quads are almost nonexistent in the men's competition because skaters are learning the risks aren't worth the reward.

Never fear, there is always controversy when it comes to judging and skating. Vancouver should be no different.

Where's Waldo?

If you're lost, so are we. Since the 2009 world championships ended in March, it seems skaters have been packing bags all over the country. One of the big moves was from Jeremy Abbott. He had a breakthrough season, capturing the Grand Prix Final title in December and the national championship in January, yet after an 11th-place finish at worlds, he left Colorado Springs, Colo., and longtime coach Tom Zakrajsek to train with Yuka Sato in Detroit.

On the women's side, 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu left Charlene Wong to work with Frank Carroll (who also happens to be Lysacek's coach and the man who guided Kwan's career for many years). In a bizarre twist, Caroline Zhang, who along with Nagasu has been considered one of the future hopes for the U.S. team, dropped coach Ming Zhu Li and is now working with Wong.

Even Cohen made an interesting coaching move. Instead of returning to John Nicks, who worked with Cohen early on and again late in her career, she is now training with Kwan's former coach, Rafael Arutunian.

In pairs, two-time U.S. champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker no longer will have Dalia Sappenfield at their side. They left Colorado Springs for California to train with John Nicks. And Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, the veterans in the event at 32 and 35, respectively, also switched coaches and are working with Olympians Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.

Meanwhile, Johnny Weir, a three-time national champion, had a dismal showing at nationals, placing fifth (seventh in the short program) and didn't even make the world team. Yet the eccentric skater was uncharacteristically pragmatic, opting to remain with his coach, Galina Zmievskaya, the force behind 1994 Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul and 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko.

You know something is up when Weir is one of the few standing pat.

Lysacek, who has been Weir's top rival for years, isn't jumping ship anytime soon, either. And he marvels at how many skaters are seeking new coaches with the Olympics right around the corner.

"I think I'm really lucky that I found a coach that I trust so much and have so much confidence in,'' said Lysacek of Frank Carroll. "I guess everyone else is sort of looking for that. In an Olympic year, I think it's important to keep your training consistent."

But wait, there's more ...

Cohen isn't the only familiar face who will be back. Evgeni Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic champion from Russia, plans to make a second run for gold. Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, a two-time world champion in 2005 and 2006 who retired in 2008, announced last month he is planning to compete in Vancouver. And China's two-time Olympic bronze medalist pairs team, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, is also planning a comeback.

"I think it's kind of cool, actually," Lysacek said. "To take a step away from the sport and figure out that you want to come back ... it's cool. And it's pretty impressive, too."

Two and out

The most drama leading up to the Olympics among Americans will come in the women's event. In all but one Winter Olympic Games since 1928 has the United States sent three skaters to compete. The one exception: Ah, yes, the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, when two skaters were more than enough -- Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Need we say more?

The race for those two coveted spots is going to be fierce, especially with Cohen back in the fold. Alissa Czisny is the reigning national champion, but her free skate at the 2009 U.S. championships was far from stellar. She is exquisite to watch but terribly inconsistent, and that has cost her in international events. Rachael Flatt, meanwhile, is one of the steadiest skaters around but had to settle for silver at nationals.

Then there's Nagasu and Zhang, who were the talk of the national championships when they were just junior-level competitors in 2007. Interestingly, the 2010 U.S. championships will be held in the same city -- Spokane, Wash.

And just when you thought the women's field wasn't crowded enough, there's Ashley Wagner, who actually won the free skate portion of the national championships. But since she had dug a huge hole for herself in the short program with a 12th-place finish, she couldn't earn her a spot on the world team.

And lest you forget, Kimmie Meissner has been working hard in Florida with coach Richard Callaghan to regain her 2006 world championship form. The second American woman to land a triple axel (Harding was the first), Meissner struggled at the 2008 championships (placing seventh) and was forced to withdraw with a hip injury in 2009.

Oh, Canada

The ice dancing portion of the competition should be interesting, as 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto seem to have resumed their place as one of the top teams in the world. They won medals at the world championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but were off the podium in 2008. They (like seemingly everyone else) left their longtime coaches in Detroit, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, to work with Olympic gold medalists Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov outside of Philadelphia. They earned a silver medal at the 2009 world championships.

If Belbin and Agosto make the 2010 team, it will make for an interesting trip for Belbin. In 2002, the couple finished second at nationals but couldn't compete when the Olympic Games were held in Salt Lake City because she was not an American citizen. Born in Kingston, Ontario, Belbin became a U.S. citizen just in the nick of time to compete in the 2006 Games. Now she has a shot at competing in her home country as an American. The question is: Which passport will she pack?

Belbin and Agosto didn't compete at the 2009 U.S. figure skating championships because Agosto was recuperating from a back injury. In their absence, Belbin and Agosto's close friends and former training partners in Detroit, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, became the new ice dancing champions.

At the national championships in Cleveland, Davis wore a necklace that Belbin had given her for good luck. Who is going to have the good-luck charm in Vancouver?

Amy Rosewater, a freelance writer based in Baltimore, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.