Weir gets early edge on rivalry with Lysacek at U.S. skating championships

Updated: January 26, 2008, 12:33 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Johnny Weir won this round. And some praise from rival Evan Lysacek.

Weir edged Lysacek in their growing on-ice rivalry Friday night, winning the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. This one's not close to being settled, though, with a measly 1.35 points separating them going into Sunday afternoon's free skate.

"I hope Evan can skate well," Weir said just before Lysacek took the ice. "I hope he can get over the nerves of coming back and trying to repeat as national champion. I've had to deal with it before and it's a hard thing to do. So I hope he makes it interesting and throws all his cards on the table and skates well."

[+] EnlargeJohnny Weir
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesJohnny Weir was pleased with his showing in Friday's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships en route to winning the event.

Weir scored 83.40 points, and Lysacek had 82.05. Stephen Carriere, last year's world junior champ, was third with 76.66.

Weir and Lysacek's ongoing tug of war is the best thing going in skating these days. Figure skating may be pretty, but it's when things get down and dirty that fans really pay attention. The Battle of the Brians, dueling Carmens, Michelle vs. Tara/Sarah/Sasha -- whenever things get heated on the ice, it's going to get good.

Weir and Lysacek's rivalry started in the United States, with Weir winning the national title from 2004-06 before Lysacek claimed it last year. But it's gone global, with Lysacek claiming two bronze medals at the world championships. He took the bronze at this year's Grand Prix final while Weir finished fourth.

And while neither likes to admit it, knowing the other is out there has made them both better skaters.

"I have so much praise for Johnny. I don't know how he did it [be defending champion] three times," Lysacek said. "I'm learning it's extremely tough."

Especially when there's someone just as good trying to take the title away.

Weir didn't have his usual pizazz, looking very deliberate and determined as he checked off one required element after another. His triple lutz-triple toe loop combination was done with ease and control, and he was one of the few competitors who not only landed a triple axel, but did a nice one.

His footwork was light and a perfect match for the music, and he had a nice touch at the end, tapping an imaginary key as the last piano note sounded.

"I was happy with the performance I put out today, and I was pleased I could turn in a clean performance and get the monkey off back of, `Oh my God, I'm back at nationals again and last year wasn't very good,"' said Weir, who finished a distant third to Lysacek at nationals after falling on one jump and popping another in his free skate.

Lysacek was pretty happy himself. He'd thought being the defending champion would boost his confidence, that he'd feel more relaxed knowing he's done this before.

He was wrong.

He spent the day Friday battling his nerves, and was still shaking as he waited to take the ice. It didn't help that he botched his quadruple toe several times during the warmup, crashing so hard one time it drew a sharp "Oooh" from fans.

"I was just so frazzled," Lysacek said. "I don't know what it is. I didn't think I'd be like that. [But] it's probably the most prestigious title, except for Olympic gold, for us."

Once his program began, he landed the quad on his feet. Unfortunately, it was on both of them, and that's a deduction. He only tacked on a double toe to complete the combination, and that's not worth as much as the triple toe he normally does. He also had a funky landing on his triple axel, brushing the boards with his skate.

But he made up for those minor errors with some intricate footwork and expressiveness that some actors would envy. Skating to "Zorro," he dueled his way across the ice with intense steps, kicks and turns.

His spins were simply dazzling. He was so fast he was practically a blur, and he showed great flexibility and control as he changed edges and positions. That's not easy for any skater, let alone someone who's all limbs at 6-foot-1.

When Lysacek finished, he looked relieved more than anything.

"I'm very happy with that," he said. "The short program for me is always so stressful, so I'll take it."

Give Carriere another season or two, and he just might make Weir and Lysacek's rivalry a three-man contest. Carriere was undefeated in the international junior ranks last year, and won his first Grand Prix medal as a senior with a bronze at last month's NHK Trophy.

He struggled with the landing of his triple axel -- why should he be different than almost everybody else? -- but his spins set him apart. While most skaters change feet in their spins by stepping, he jumps, and that slight difference gives him a very unique look and all-important points for originality.

"We always focus on the performance and the program, we don't really focus on the results," Carriere said. "So in that sense, yeah, I am pretty surprised. I was just really focusing on doing the personal best program I could do tonight.

"I'd say I was pretty close."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE