Quads in hands, U.S. men look to contend at worlds

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Well, well, well. Look who’ll be bringing some new tricks to the world championships.

Evan Lysacek landed his first quad-triple jump combination on his way to winning the men’s title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night. Johnny Weir two-footed his quad attempt, but he at least stayed upright and showed during practices he can pull off the four-revolution jump.

With quads in hand, the U.S. men are sending a message to the rest of the world: Americans are going to contend with anyone at the world championships in Tokyo in March. Even quad monster Brian Joubert of France.

“We’re going to try and kick butt,” said Priscilla Hill, Weir’s coach.

It takes more than one jump to win a world title. But the quad is such a biggie, in both points and prestige, that skaters who can’t do one are starting from behind.

Which is part of the reason no American man has won a world title since Todd Eldredge way back in 1996 – without the quad.

Kurt Browning was the first to land a quad in competition in 1988, and it’s become a common sight in the last decade. Alexei Yagudin, Elvis Stojko, Evgeni Plushenko, Stephane Lambiel, Joubert – they all had them, and most had more than one. Joubert does as many as three in his free skate, though he only needed one to win the European title this weekend.

But the only American who’s ever been able to land the quad with any consistency was Tim Goebel. Since he faded from the scene, no American has gone to worlds with a quad in his arsenal. Which meant that unless one of the big names faltered, the best the Americans could realistically expect was second or third.

Look at Lysacek. He won bronze medals at the last two worlds, and was fourth at the Turin Olympics. But if he wanted to climb the podium – not to mention claim the U.S. title – he had to put the quad in.

Now that he’s proven he can do it – and do it well – Lysacek goes to worlds with an extra dose of confidence.

“Yes,” he said when asked if his showing at nationals will send a message to Joubert. “I think that he has sort of dominated international skating this season, but only because I think it’s sort of a transitional period for a lot of countries. He came out like gangbusters and has been doing the quad for four seasons.

“It’s a new jump for us. To put three in a program is a little bit unrealistic,” he said. “But there are areas in my skating that are stronger than his. There are a lot of other skaters who have areas of their skating that are stronger than his.”

Like artistry.

On Saturday night, Lysacek skated as much with his heart as his feet. Every one of his landings were solid, his steps were sure and his spins were tight and fast. There was no wasted movement in his “Carmen” program, no fluff that is supposed to pass for expression.

And despite his marks, this wasn’t even his best performance. Few can sell a program as well as Lysacek, who has a gift for bringing characters to life. But he was so focused on the program itself Saturday that he sacrificed some of his usual flair.

Now that he knows he can skate his program like he did Saturday, though, he’s free to give it more color.

“I can definitely do better performance-wise,” he said.

Weir is possibly the most artistic skater in the world these days. He’s also a very good jumper, and had been working on the quad all season. He was landing them with regularity back home but, plagued by what he described as a “hip-butt” injury, they weren’t quite as consistent during his practices at nationals.

He did enough of them to show he can land it, though, and never thought of not doing it Saturday night.

Skating right after Lysacek, Weir was clearly rattled by the thunderous ovation his rival got and fell short on his attempt at a quad toe, coming down on two feet. The idea is to land it on one foot, but two-footing it is at least better than ending up on his backside.

“I was excited I was able to stand up on the quad,” Weir said. “I fought for every element and I didn’t give up. Even though this wasn’t a great performance, it was better than anything else I’ve done this season.

“Hopefully by Tokyo, I’ll be on the medals stand for worlds.”

The men won’t be the only ones doing some showing off in Tokyo. Kimmie Meissner hopes to get her triple axel consistent enough again to put it in her free skate. Meissner is only the second American woman to land the 31/2-revolution jump, doing it at nationals two years ago.

She didn’t need to do it this time around. But she did need an assist from Emily Hughes to win her first national title. Meissner finished third in the free skate, but it was enough to win after Hughes fell on a triple flip.

“Considering it’s in Japan, I don’t think I’m going to be the favorite there,” said Meissner, who’s the reigning world champ. “I’m going to train really hard and get my program to the best it can be so, when I go there, I can really surprise people.”

AP-ES-01-28-07 1453EST

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