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U.S. men's team taking shape

1/16/2010

SPOKANE, Wash. -- While nothing is set until after Sunday's final, the U.S. men's Olympic figure skating team looked clear enough after Friday's short program that you could almost see it reflected in the sheen of Johnny Weir's costume.

Speaking of which, just what is that material called, anyway?

"You want to touch it?' Weir asked. "It's what I call oil-slicked Lycra. It's very fancy."

Weir finished in third place, just behind reigning world champion Evan Lysacek, with reigning national champ Jeremy Abbott in the lead. The three are all more than 10 points ahead of Adam Rippon in fourth place.

"I was way more excited about this than last year," Abbott said after scoring 87.85. "My goal is not defending the national title, it's to be one of the top three skaters who'll represent the U.S. at the Vancouver Olympics."

The three-man U.S. team will be selected on the basis of these championships and performances over the past year. As world champ and the No.1-ranked skater, Lysacek said he feels so assured of an Olympic spot, he considered these championships merely as practice for Vancouver. He didn't deliver his best performance Friday -- he stepped out of a triple axel to start -- but was second at 83.69 and said he was pleased with how he skated the many step changes in his program. The only real issue he had was skating uncomfortably close to the wall at one point.

"It happens. I'm big," said Lysacek, who is 6-foot-2. "I have to make sure I don't hit the judges. I think the one lady judge got a little scared."

Saying he felt "very fantastic, very aware and very diva," Weir is in third place just behind Lysacek at 83.51 and said his performance showed that "I'm in shape, I'm prepared, I'm healthy and I'm rocking my pink tassels with abandon."

Isn't it a shame Weir is so shy about expressing his inner feelings?

His routine Friday was in distinct contrast to last year's national championships, where he performed so poorly it cost him a spot on the U.S. team sent to the world championships, and made him consider giving up the sport. Weir said the only comparison to last year, when "the world was absolutely falling down on me," and Friday was "I was on the ice in a sparkly costume."

"Sparkly" does not begin to do it justice. Weir wore a corseted costume of what he called "porno-leather" material and pink tassels, a design it's safe to say you'll never see worn by Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions.

"To sum up my idea of on-ice fashion sense is that 'Too much is never enough,'" Weir said. "And on Sunday, I am wearing fur."

Hear that, PETA?

"PETA has been up my butt since the 2006 Olympic Games," Weir said. "I get postcards and nasty hate mail and videotapes of animals being skinned. And while I feel bad and understand their side of things, I take my little autograph card and I sign my name and I draw a chipmunk with X's over its eyes and I mail it back. Don't attack me for a personal choice. You're protecting animals. We have soldiers dying all over the world. Choose your battles. Don't pick on me."

While Weir and Lysacek are longtime rivals who skated at Torino in 2006, Abbott is shooting for his first Olympics. Skating to Jeff Beck's version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "A Day in a Life," he turned in a rousing routine Friday.

"I was so nervous going out there," Abbott said. "I really had to summon every ounce of power to keep my head together. After that triple lutz, there was an explosion inside and I could just have fun. … I just willed myself to do everything rather than giving into the nerves, giving into the fears and letting everything fall apart."

Rippon could have made things much closer had he finished as well as he started. He was skating superbly until he ran out of ice after a triple lutz and crashed into the wall, then fell heading into another move. He's in fourth place with 72.91 points.

"Anything is possible, but I couldn't tell you that I let my Olympic moment get the best of me," Rippon said. "Heading into that lutz, I told myself, 'This is it this your jump, this is yours.' I shouldn't have told myself anything. I do those jumps all the time in practice. I let my head get the best of myself."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.