12:57 PM EDT, April 9, 2012
Evan Lysacek has taken a big step toward getting back into competitive figure skating.
Lysacek, the reigning Olympic champion, announced Monday he has switched agents, leaving Creative Artists Agency for Shep Goldberg, who has represented Michelle Kwan for nearly 20 years.
CAA is one of the largest, most powerful and influential agencies in the world, with Triple-A list Hollywood and music industry clients and sports megastars including snowboarder / skateboarder Shaun White, tennis player Novak Djokevic and major sports athletes like Peyton Manning, LeBron James and David Beckham.
But its complete unfamiliarity with figure skating contributed to the contractual impasse with U.S. Figure Skating that derailed Lysacek's plans to return this season after two years away from competition.
In working with Kwan as long as he has and in having worked with Tom Collins and the Champions on Ice Tour that once was a major source of income for both skaters and the U.S. federation, Goldberg clearly knows how the sport rolls -- and, perhaps as importantly, how its economic situation has deteriorated in the past decade.
"I'm continuing to train hard and assume Shep will work everything out," Lysacek said via telephone from New York, where he is to present fashion designer Vera Wang with an award at Monday night's Figure Skating in Harlem benefit gala. "I feel whole again and ready to compete."
At Saturday's Figure Skating of Boston 100th anniversary celebration, Lysacek performed about two-thirds of the free skate he plans for next year, with music from Camille Saëns' "Samson and Delilah."
(For video of that performance, click here.)
He intends to begin work on a short program with choreographer Lori Nichol in Florida the last week of April and begin consistent training after doing a show with Olympic champion Kim Yu-na May 4-6 in Seoul.
Lysacek said Frank Carroll will remain his primary coach although he also will work with Kwan's older sister, Karen, who helped revive Caroline Zhang's career this season.
"I called Frank before he went to worlds (which took place last week) to make sure he was still on board," Lysacek said. "I could never do this without him."
If the issues with U.S. Figure Skating are resolved, Lysacek said his first competition could be the Nebelhorn Trophy Sept. 27-29 in Oberstdorf, Germany. It is the most prestigious annual international invitational event other than the Grand Prix series.
"It counts for world ranking points, and I would like to get my ranking back up," Lysacek said.
The rankings, which cover a three-year cycle and are calculated by formulas even more arcane and unfathomably complex than those for the new judging system, help determine assignments on the Grand Prix circuit and skating order in international championships.
Lysacek was No. 1 in the world after the 2010 Olympics. Two years of inactivity have dropped him to No. 28.
After announcing early last summer he was back in serious training, Lysacek said in late September the 2014 Olympics were his goal. U.S. Figure Skating entered him for last October's Skate America Grand Prix event - and used his image for publicity - even though he had yet to sign the basic agreement with the federation.
USFS officials told me last fall the problems involved financial issues. Lysacek told me last month that was true only in the broadest sense and that "it was never an issue of dollars and cents."
Sources with knowledge of the negotiations told me the main sticking point involved individual sponsorship contracts Lysacek currently has and could get in the future. The federation seemingly wanted to keep him from getting deals in any product categories where it already had sponsors, even though such restrictions would run counter to U.S. Olympic Committee rules for active Olympians.
(For instance, McDonald's is a USOC sponsor, but Olympic stars like Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin have deals with Subway.)
Then there was the issue of CAA's having an unrealistic expectations of Lysacek's value - after all, he is only a figure skater, no matter the buzz he got from finishing second on "Dancing With The Stars" two years ago.
And, in leaving International Management Group - the most powerful force in skating - for CAA, Lysacek undoubtedly overestimated what having a connection to an entertainment superpower could do for him.
After all, this is no longer the post-Tonya-Nancy era, when the general public had a morbid curiosity about the sport, and skaters were awash in money from ersatz competitions and tours.
Even with that, Michelle Kwan is the only U.S. skater who competed in those years to get very wealthy from the sport, and much of her income came from sources directly related to what she did - prize and appearance money in her competitive years and the contract with Champions on Ice.
Kwan also earned every penny with her winning personality, competitive fire and the most distinguished competitive record of any skater in the world since Katarina Witt nearly a quarter-century ago.
Meanwhile, the men's results at the past two world championships have been the worst in history. U.S. interest in the sport beyond hard-score skating fans is the lowest in history. And Lysacek has the most impressive international career credentials - world and Olympic titles, three world medals - of any U.S. man since 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano.
There is no guarantee Lysacek will win another championship medal - or even win one of the two U.S. world spots in 2013 or an Olympic spot in 2014.
But he and comebacking Johnny Weir (bronze in 2008) are the only U.S. men to have won world medals since 2003. Other than Weir, no U.S. man has done better since 2003 than Lysacek's worst finish in four worlds and two Olympics - fifth place.
Plus, renewal of the entertaining old Lysacek-Weir rivalry will help deflect attention from the mess surrounding every U.S. skating discipline except ice dance.
USFS boss David Raith should crawl from Colorado Springs to Goldberg's office outside Detroit to get Lysacek back.
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