- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Three-year-old Annie Mae Weiss is wearing little white skates and little pink gloves and is ready to take the ice. She hasn't learned to skate on her own just yet, but, fortunately, she has a good teacher.
Her father is a two-time national champion who hopes to reclaim his title this week at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Michael Weiss moves slowly around the rink at Fairfax Ice Arena, holding on to his daughter. He has finished a light Friday night practice, and now the focus is family. Everyone is there: his wife Lisa, his 2-year-old son Christopher, his parents, his in-laws.
They all watch Weiss and Annie Mae skating together, snapping pictures at every chance.
"Has she fallen by herself yet?" asks Audrey Weisiger, Weiss' coach.
The coach knows falling is an important lesson. Falling on a quadruple jump, for example, can cost a skater the gold medal.
Quadruple jumps have quickly become an essential part of men's figure skating. It was unheard of to attempt a quad in competition 15 years ago, but these days it's virtually impossible to win a gold medal without one.
When Weiss is on, his quadruple jumps rival the best. He plans on doing a quad toe/triple toe combination in both his short and long programs at the nationals in Los Angeles.
"If you want to be third in the world or third in the Olympics, you don't need [the quad], but if you want to win the Olympics, you need to do it, and you need to do it in combination with a triple," says the 25-year-old Weiss, who will compete in the short program tonight.
In practice, Weiss has even landed a quad lutz, the most difficult jump with a backward takeoff.
"No one in the world has done that except Michael," says Greg Weiss, Michael's father. "He just hasn't gotten the credit for it because he hasn't done it in competition."
Landing the quad in practice and landing it in competition are two different things. The quad can be ruthless. After winning the national title in 1999 and 2000, Weiss went to the 2001 nationals as the favorite and was in first place after the short program.
In the long program, however, Weiss fell on his quad toe loop attempt, and things went downhill from there. The reigning champion finished fourth.
But at this practice in Fairfax, the quad is no sweat. Weiss attempts the quad toe/triple toe combination as he runs through his short program, a classical Spanish-style piece to "Malaguena" choreographed by his wife. He does the seven total rotations in mere seconds, and he executes them well. His family applauds. They understand the difficulty of the quad.
Everyone at Fairfax Ice Arena thinks Weiss is the American to beat. In between the picture snapping, they talk about the other American skaters Weiss will face at nationals. They discuss Tim Goebel's lack of artistry and wonder how Todd Eldredge expects to win without a consistent quad. They think the other Americans don't have what Weiss has everything.
"I think Michael is a great whole package," says Weisiger. "He's a good technical skater, he's a great performer. His sense of being able to communicate with the audience now is just tremendous. That's the great skill of any one of these world-class skaters is to be able to perform all this incredibly difficult technical skill, while making it look easy and entertaining the crowd."
Weisiger and Weiss, who was born in the District, have worked together in Fairfax for almost 17 years.
"For somebody of his caliber to have stayed at home and trained at the local facility and been a regular hometown guy for all this time and achieved what he's achieved, is really unheard of in the skating world," says Weisiger, whose husband's family owns and operates Fairfax Ice Arena.
Among the greatest achievements for this regular hometown guy are two bronze medals from the World Championships in 1999 and 2000. Since then, he has been hot and cold.
Bothered by a foot injury last season, Weiss failed to make the 2001 world team after his fourth-place finish at nationals. This season he started strong by beating three-time world champion Alexei Yagudin at the Goodwill Games to capture the silver medal. Then came the Grand Prix, where each skater competes in two of six events and the top six skaters advance to the final. Goebel and Eldredge qualified; Weiss finished 18th and didn't make the trip.
But with his resume, he shouldn't be underestimated. Weiss has a history of comebacks. In 1999, he went to the Grand Prix final, but didn't medal. In 2000, he didn't qualify for that event. Yet both of those seasons ended with him as the national champion and world bronze medalist.
"I'm in this situation right now where going into this competition, because Todd and Timmy have done well at the Grand Prix events, I may be considered the underdog but I'm also not. Nobody who's won two national titles is ever going to be a real underdog. Everybody knows what I'm capable of and they know that when I do skate well, more than likely, I will beat both of them. So I need to skate well," Weiss says.
Weiss has a better chance of doing that at this year's nationals, now that he is injury-free. Last season, the foot injury hindered him. At the 1998 Olympics, it was a hip injury that left Weiss unable to jump in practice. According to his coach, he could barely bend over and touch his toes. Weiss wound up seventh in Nagano.
Now he feels healthy and strong. Getting injured this season just isn't an option.
"I know I'm not going to have to deal with that this year because …"
He pauses.
"I'm just not. I'm in a very solid mind-set and a great focus and I'm not going to get injured. That won't be an issue."
Weiss needs to stay healthy, at least through February, so he can turn out a strong performance at the Olympics. He sees Salt Lake City as his last chance to win an Olympic medal not because he has committed to retirement, but because he wants the extra push to win.
"My mind-set has to be this is my shot and this is my one shot. If I think about it like this is my Olympic games and I'm not going to be competing after this Olympic games, then it gives me that one shot, and puts the pressure on me to do it in the next two months. So in that regard, I'm not looking to compete after this Olympics. I'm looking for things to go well in the next two months, win my Olympic medal and ride off into the sunset," Weiss says.
Then he smiles and changes his mind.
"Skate off into the sunset."
Regardless of how he finishes at nationals and the Olympics, Weiss seems happy with his skating and himself. He talks about how important it is to balance family with competition, and how there's more to life than medals.
"Whether I skate great or not, when I come off the ice, Annie Mae and Christopher love me the same way, and I'm their daddy either way," he says. "It's nice to know that I have that, whether things go well or things go poorly. It kind of puts things in perspective."

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