4:42 PM EST, February 24, 2012
Evan Lysacek came to Twin Rinks Arena in Buffalo Grove Thursday to give a private lesson to a 14-year old figure skater, Rudi Baruch, whose dad had bought the opportunity in a charity auction.
But Lysacek was on the ice an hour before the lesson began, doing run-throughs of a long program to the Bacchanal from Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah. He worked the full hour with relentless intensity, skating the whole program a couple times, then concentrating repeatedly on individual sections, including three-jump sequences and quadruple jumps - two of which he landed.
This clearly was more than a training session designed to get the reigning Olympic champion in shape for his upcoming shows skating, with the Skating Club of Boston in late March; Figure Skating of Harlem in early April; an "A" list gala in Sweden, whose King and Queen will be on the guest list, that he said is being arranged by the U.S. State Department for mid-April; and Kim Yuna's shows in South Korea this May.
This was a guy training for a competitive comeback, with Samson and Delilah as his long program.
Lysacek, 26, hoped to do his first competition since the 2010 OIympics this season. But negotiations with U.S. Figure Skating on some contractual issues broke down soon after Lysacek announced last September he intended to try for the 2014 Olympics.
He is optimistic they will be resolved well before next season.
"Some talks I have had in the past couple weeks make me feel certain it will get worked out," he said.
USFS spokesperson Barb Reichert said last fall that money created the impasse. In the broadest sense, that was true, but Lysacek insists, "It was never an issue of dollars and cents," even if the USFS funding offer was less than he hoped for. 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.
Reichert said Friday the USFS would have no comment "at this time" about Lysacek's feelings that an agreement is near.
"I think something got lost in translation in the triangle involving me, my agents and U.S. Figure Skating," Lysacek said. "I think we will be fine. I want to skate, I love to skate, and I can't fight what is inside me.
"I really have a competitor's heart. And I'm pretty sure I can still do it. The bottom line is I want too compete, and I'm going to be ready to do it."
There is an ironic side to Lysacek's problematic relationship with the U.S. figure skating federation. Over the past two years, the U.S. Olympic Committee, which oversees USFS, has frequently called on Lysacek - as well as Olympic medalist champions Gretchen Bleiler and Lindsey Vonn - to schmooze and speak at fundraisers. He is scheduled to do one at Aspen, Colo., and another at Big Sky Resort in Montana this winter.
"We have found donors love to hear (the athletes') stories," USOC communications director Patrick Sandusky said. "Evan is one of the best story tellers around, and in these intimate settings, he really connects with people and brings the Olympian experience to life."
Naperville's Lysacek said he called USFS high performance director Mitch Moyer right before January's U.S. Championships in January to tell Moyer he was training for next season. Lysacek said he is near a 50 percent success rate on a quad, which he did not need to win the 2010 Olympics, and he wants to have six triple jumps in the second half of his long program, when they would get bonus points.
"My first steps coming back into competition, I am not going to expect perfection or to win," Lysacek said. "As I get closer to Sochi, I will be out for blood."
Lysacek said he has seen only bits and pieces of competitions this season. He spent the U.S. Championships promoting skating in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a guest of two sheikhs from the United Arab Emirates, a trip that developed from an unlikely series of connections. An owner of the Palm Beach, Florida Ice Works, where Lysacek trained a couple times last year, has business contacts with one of the sheikhs.
The trip to Sweden will give him a chance to see an old friend. Lysacek said he had skated in Chicago with Natalia Lopatniuk Brzezinski, who grew up near Midway Airport and is the wife of the new U.S. ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski.
Such commitments, Lysacek notes, would have made it complicated for him to compete this season.
"I would have been exhausted, but I would have tried," he said. "Next year, I will have more control of what my schedule looks like, and I will make sure it is really geared around competing."
Lysacek's longtime rival, the charismatic Johnny Weir, announced in January he is training for a comeback next season. The two have gotten over differences sparked by a brief sniping episode after the 2010 Olympics.
"I really wish Johnny well," Lysacek said.
The sport - and especially U.S. Figure Skating - should wish them both well. Three-time U.S. champion Weir and two-time U.S,. champion Lysacek are the only two U.S. men to win world medals (or finish higher than fifth) since 2003, one medal (bronze) for Weir and three (a world title and two bronzes) for Lysacek, who also never missed the podium in his final 12 Grand Prix appearances.
No matter their future results, the return of Lysacek and Weir should energize a sport only hard-core fans care about any more in the United States.
The general public may know Lysacek more for his second-place finish on Dancing With The Stars than his Olympic gold and Weir more for his quirky personality and his reality show than for his skating, but no one outside the skating community could tell you who succeeded them as the best in the country.
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