by Michelle Wojdyla
(1/27/07) - Johnny Weir probably said it best.
“Well, he beat me by 30 points. He didn’t just beat me, he kicked my [butt].”
“He” would be Evan Lysacek, and Weir was showing respect for the guy who skated lights out.
Lysacek didn’t just win the men’s title. He trounced the competition with his “Carmen” program. Actually, he didn’t just trounce the competition. He rocked the near-sellout crowd at the Spokane Arena with probably the most electrifying free skate at the U.S. Championships since Rudy Galindo’s upset win in San Jose 11 years ago.
The men’s free skate at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships started at 6:15 p.m. Skater after skater fell. The crowd saw more pops than a Midwest 7-11. Visions of Dallas were dancing in their heads.
At 8:05 p.m. Jeremy Abbott skated the third-best program of the night to take him to fourth overall.
The crowd waited for another skater to step up.
At 9:27 p.m. Lysacek took the ice in his black outfit with thin red scarf. “Carmen” again, not the new program he promised earlier in the season. Carmen. Again.
Right off the bat, Lysacek opened with a huge quad toe-triple toe combination.
This is not your 2006 “Carmen.”
Lysacek had never landed a clean quad in competition, let alone a quad-triple combination. But this is Carmen ‘07. With a +2 GOE, 15 points racked up. Element after element followed, two triple Axels (one in combination with a triple toe) and eight triples overall. Positive GOEs tacked on to all.
The scoreboard flashed the technical score: 91.13.
Pandemonium shook the arena and continued to grow as the component scores were flashed. 78.76. 169.89 total. 248.88 grand total.
“Basically what I tried to do was totally shut my brain off,” Lysacek said. “It was a little bit surreal. I was kind of out of body, and I could almost hear my heart beating. And it was so strange. And I kept fading in and out. I would do something and I would be like ‘Oh my God this is so cool, but then I would go back to my super-mental zone. So it was weird, but I definitely enjoyed it and I think that I can do better, presentation-wise, than that, but technically, that’s my best performance that I’ve given.”
After winning the junior title in 2000, Lysacek’s skating life as a top-level competitor came as a challenge.
“I’ve been like a sponge for the past three years,” he said. “I was kind of pushed onto the senior circuit, and the first year I was the third in the world… and then it’s like ‘Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I think I came here prepared, and I came here with very little doubt, and I knew I wanted to win more than anything. I mean, it’s hard to put into words how badly I wanted to come and claim that title here in Spokane.”
Following the posting of Lysacek’s scores, the cheers and shouts and applause grew to a deafening proportion.
Next to skate, Johnny Weir.
“I heard ninety-something for the first mark, and I’ve never heard that before,” Weir said. “I was really shocked, and like, ‘What the hell?’ I didn’t really know what to expect as far as what Evan had done, but I knew he must have done fantastic. So going in and having to wait so long, and be prepared for that, and have all of this extra chatter coming in. The pressure and stress is very difficult to deal with, and I knew I would have to be fight hard and be perfect if I was going to win.”
Soft and fluid movements calmed the audience as Weir set up for a triple Axel. The Axel, however, wasn’t perfect but Weir saved it. He flew down to the other end of the ice for a quad toe. Two footed. The gold was gone.
The second triple Axel was doubled. The triple loop? A hard fall.
Was the silver gone?
A popped Axel.
It was not looking good.
“When I went to the quad and I was still standing at the end I was happy,” Weir said. “In general I was happy with that, that’s one thing that stands out for me.
“I fought for every inch of that program, and that’s something that I am very proud of. I know I fought for this day, and I’m very proud that I could be a fighter.”
Last to skate, 23-year-old Ryan Bradley …who had not stood on a national podium since he was a junior in 1999.
Opening triple Axel-triple toe? Fought and complete. Five triples followed. Bradley danced and smiled and winked throughout his Latin program, flirting with the audience and making them an integral part of the four and a half minutes.
The scores came up.
The skater who quit the sport a couple years ago came back in a very big way.
“I just took some time, finished high school, got into college,” Bradley said. “My goal at that point was to take the stress off of skating, so that I wasn’t just a figure skater. I wanted to be just a good kid as well. I’m so stoked that I did that. It was hard to come back after that time off, but just getting into school made skating so much more fun, and so much easier.”
Bradley had always been known as a great show skater, silly and fun but not very serious.
“We wanted to tone down the program this year,” Bradley said. “Go for skating skills, go for high components, kind of control things and not be out there and skate for the crowd and instead of just for the judges and the points... But I threw that to the wind and started having fun and got caught up in the moment. I didn’t want to leave. They had to yank me off the ice.”
When Bradley was finished, he turned to face the 10,000 + people on their feet. He called it chaos.
“It was like a swirling bubble. I got so happy,” Bradley said. “Everything I’ve been trying to do all season long and every time I went out this summer when I wasn’t quite ready and I was pushing myself. It’s just so good to have everyone behind me. It’s such an amazing feeling I can’t even explain it.”
He even was allowed back on the ice to do a backflip.
Abbott, who placed third in the free skate ahead of Weir, was fourth overall. It was a remarkable comeback for a guy who didn’t make it out of sectionals last year. But he stormed back to win the Midwestern title this year and make the most out of his national appearance.