- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

Michael Weiss had all but officially announced his retirement going into the 2002 Olympics, but after a disappointing trip to Salt Lake City, he decided to stick around for one more season.

The decision led to one of the most eventful seasons of his career.

He kicked things off with an uncharacteristic fifth-place finish at Skate America, and the surprises haven't stopped.

Surprise: Weiss fired his coach of 18 years.

Surprise: Weiss skated on his heels literally after the International Skating Union (ISU) approved a pair of blades that he helped develop.

Surprise: Weiss, who hasn't claimed gold in a major skating event since his second national title in 2000, picked up his first Grand Prix title with a win at Trophee Lalique.

Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be watching the season at home on TV.

Tonight in Dallas, longtime Fairfax resident Weiss will seek to surprise the skating world again with a powerful short program that could help him win his third national title.

"I was thinking of retiring, but I just felt like I was still getting better and doing things better than I've done in the past, so it didn't make any sense for me to stop competing," he said.

Ending his 18-year coaching relationship with Audrey Weisinger didn't make sense at first either, but Weiss' skating has improved considerably since.

With new coach Don Laws, who led Scott Hamilton to Olympic gold, Weiss is doing more quadruple jumps than ever, both in practice and competition. The new pair will seek to finish the season in March with a medal at the World Championships, which will be in the District, where Weiss was born.

"I just felt like I needed some type of change, some type of spark," Weiss said of his decision to part with Weisinger. "It's not that I needed to hear anything different, I just needed to hear it from somebody different. When you hear the same thing from the same person over and over again, it doesn't have the same impact as it used to."

Weiss has upgraded his long program to include two quadruple jumps, the Lutz and the toe. He has been landing two-footed quad Lutzes the most difficult jump since 1997 but has yet to land one cleanly enough to take credit.

"I'm more consistent with my quads than I've ever been before," said Weiss, who has landed a clean quad toe at his last three competitions. "I think I'm a way better skater than I was when I won [the national title] in 1999 and 2000."

Landing the first quad Lutz in the world in Saturday's free skate could be Weiss' key to victory. His biggest competition should come from Timothy Goebel, the 20-year-old reigning Olympic bronze medalist, who packs three quads into his free skate but doesn't have the Lutz.

It is unlikely anyone else in the men's field will challenge for gold, and Weiss, a two-time Olympian and two-time world bronze medalist, is the veteran.

"I feel comfortable out on the ice again," Weiss said. "I could stay in for four more years. It's certainly possible because I would be [only] 29. If things are as successful and going as easily over this next three as they're going this year, then, yes, I will stay in. If things stay as they are now, I don't see myself stopping anytime soon."

Weiss has recovered both mentally and physically from the injuries that plagued him the last few seasons.

"He says he wants to stay in four more years then we realized you take it one year at a time," Laws said. "[Hes] not going to give up."

Weiss certainly didn't give up at Trophee Lalique when he found himself in fifth place after the short program. Bouncing from fifth to first is virtually unheard of in figure skating, but Weiss produced a phenomenal free skate and earned his first Grand Prix title.

It's a first for Weiss' ice skates this year, too. The Freedom Blade, with rounded heels that Weiss helped develop with creators Nick Perna and John Watts, was approved by the ISU this season.

Now Weiss is working the unique footwork he does on his heels into his competitive programs.

"I don't want to shock the judges right off the bat," Weiss said. "In competitions, I'm slowly integrating them into each program, so as not to blast the judges with something completely different."

But most of Weiss' recent success comes from the new training regimen he has with Laws. He used to spend three to four hours on the ice every day and another one to two hours doing off-ice conditioning. Now Weiss only trains about 11/2 hours a day total and said his sessions are more efficient.

"I'm not as tired," he said. "I come out, I'm ready to go. Sometimes I do 10 quads in a practice session. My practice sessions are really efficient, and that's from Don. Don is a very methodical, mechanical type coach, and he expects a certain amount from you every day."

Weiss said Laws never gets too excited or too upset, which Weiss said has kept him grounded in his training.

"His range isn't awesome and awful it's good and not quite as good," Weiss said. "It doesn't get too up and down, too emotional. It keeps you more on a plateau at a good level."

If Weiss keeps skating on that level, more surprises are sure to come.

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