Olympic Champion Evan Lysacek and three-time U.S. Champion Johnny Weir will be at the 2011 U.S. Championships in Greensboro, N.C., this week. But for the first time since 2003, when Michael Weiss still reigned supreme in the men’s event, neither Lysacek or Weir will be standing on the podium as both opted out of competing this season.
“I was really looking forward to competing with them in my first senior nationals,” said Joshua Farris, the junior men’s silver medalist at the 2009 U.S. Championships. “I’m not at the level yet where I think that I can win or medal at nationals but I wanted to see how I would do against Evan and Johnny. It would have been cool to share the practice ice with them because they’ve done everything that I want to do. I guess you could say it’s a little disappointing to not skate against the best of the best.”
Lysacek and Weir have won five of the last seven U.S. Championships awarded. Lysacek is a World Champion and has two bronze medals. Weir has a World bronze medal too. Both made the 2006 and 2010 U.S. Olympic Teams.
“I’m not disappointed with their decisions,” men’s competitor Grant Hochstein said. “I think both skaters have had incredible careers and have successes that any skater would be proud of. The Olympic season is always straining and I think it makes perfect sense to take a break.”
Lysacek, recently named the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 2010 SportsMan of the Year, was most notably the runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” following his victory in Vancouver. Weir is on a book tour for his memoir “Welcome to My World”.
“Both athletes have added to the sport in a number of different ways,” Hochstein said. “I think Evan has shown us consistency and strength. Johnny has given us charisma and dramatic flair. All of this I believe is positive and have given our generation of skaters something to model ourselves off of.”
And without them competing this year, fans are wondering who will fill the void.
“Evan and Johnny dominated the men’s event for a while. They were Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi of American skating,” said John Coughlin, who won the pairs short program with Caitlin Yankowskas. “But that is not to say that there weren’t equally talented people surrounding them. I highly doubt they would have reached such great heights without the likes of Ryan Bradley and Jeremy Abbott pushing them. This will be a fun year.”
Two-time defending U.S. Champion Abbott and Bradley, who was fourth last year, are among the contenders who have everyone talking. Two-time World Junior Champion Adam Rippon also made a strong impression on the Grand Prix this season
“Jeremy has turned into a great performer in high pressure situations and has a chance to establish a legacy if he wins another title,” Coughlin said. “Adam is kind of the pop sensation and he has a lot of momentum headed into the championships. Brandon Mroz found a consistent stride in the Grand Prix circuit and is always a threat to win. And two quads mixed with personality will always leave you in the hunt so don’t count Ryan out.”
Mroz finished second at the 2009 U.S. Championships. The list of contenders also includes Armin Mahbanoozadeh, who placed eighth at the 2010 U.S. Championships and was fourth at the 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy and third at Skate America. Keegan Messing was ninth at the 2010 U.S. Championships and fifth at the 2010 Junior Grand Prix Final, a competition won by Richard Dornbush.
“There are so many different skaters who could win the title this season and I really don’t think there is a favorite,” Hochstein said. “However, I am only focused on myself and skating my own personal best.”
Hochstein finished fourth at Finlandia Trophy and 10th at Skate Canada this season. He was seventh in his senior debut at the 2010 U.S. Championship.
“Our men’s field is always so incredibly deep,” Coughlin said. “There is a reason why skaters leave the U.S. to skate in other countries, but almost never vice versa. The top eight at nationals would make us proud on a world stage.”
Other men in the mix: Jonathan Cassar, seventh at Finlandia Trophy; Alexander Johnson, fourth at the Midwestern Sectionals; Ross Miner, ninth at NHK Trophy and seventh at Cup of China; Parker Pennington, third at Midwestern Sectionals; Sean Rabbitt, second at Pacific Coast Sectionals; Douglas Razzano, second at the Ice Challenge and first at Pacific Coast Sectionals; and Jason Wong, eighth at Nebelhorn Trophy.
Photo courtesy of Leah Adams
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