|Monday, January 13
Updated: January 14, 3:58 AM ET
Healthy Weiss happy with recent change
DALLAS -- After 18 years together, Michael Weiss knew what Audrey Weisiger was going to say before his coach opened her mouth.
He knew his training routine so well he never had to think about it. When he'd go to the rink in the morning, his car could drive itself he'd made the trip so many thousands of times.
The two-time U.S. champion was still one of the top skaters in the world. But he'd fallen into a rut, and he hadn't even seen it happening.
"You're just kind of going through the motions,'' Weiss said, "because it's what you're used to.''
But after watching other skaters pass him by the past three years, he knew he had to do something or the rut would become a sinkhole. And it couldn't be little changes here and there, it had to be something drastic.
So in October, he made a stunning announcement: He was leaving Weisiger, his coach since he was 9, to train full-time with Don Laws, Scott Hamilton's former mentor.
"Audrey will always be my skating coach even though she's not coaching me now,'' the 26-year-old Weiss said. "She taught me everything I learned in figure skating.
"But I think you reach a point where you don't hear what's being said to you. I needed to hear it from somebody else. ... It was a big change, a drastic change. But it's been great.''
For the first time in three years, Weiss is coming to this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships healthy and on a roll. After struggling through his first two competitions of the year, he won Trophee Lalique with what might have been the finest free skate of his career.
Since then, he's finished second in two pro-ams, once to Olympic gold medalist Alexei Yagudin and once to 2001 world champion Evgeni Plushenko.
"I still feel like I have a lot more to offer,'' Weiss said. "My skating has definitely come to a new level.''
At this time last year, he wasn't even sure if he would keep skating at the Olympic level. He'd won the U.S. title and the world bronze medal in both 1999 and 2000, but had been plagued by injuries and inconsistency the past three years. He was so inconsistent he barely made the Olympic team.
But a funny thing happened in Salt Lake City.
"I was practicing very well and I was doing things that I haven't done before technically,'' he said. "It didn't make much sense to quit while I'm still learning and still getting better.''
Weisiger was actually the first to realize Weiss needed to shake things up, so she asked Laws at the end of the summer if he'd work with Weiss one day a week.
The new routine seemed to work. Weiss was making progress in practice, even landing the quadruple lutz on a consistent basis.
But when he got to Skate America, it was the same old story. He botched two of his jumps in the short program and wound up fifth -- despite a weak field.
"It was really unexpected,'' he said. "I was practicing so well that it didn't make sense to me that I didn't compete well.
"I just decided to listen to that little voice inside my head that said, `You know what? I need a change.'''
Three days later, he switched coaches.
"It was a very difficult decision,'' Weiss said. "I was thankful Audrey was supportive of my decision, to support my change and realize that was something I needed to do.''
The move gave Weiss an emotional boost. After years of the same thing day in and day out, everything was new again. His car even had to learn its way to a new rink.
The effect wasn't clear right away. He finished fourth in the Nations Cup, and his short program at Lalique was an absolute disaster. One of his worst ever, it left him way down in fifth place.
The next day, however, he was standing on the podium. It was his first major win since 2000, when he captured his second national title.
"That was exactly what my confidence needed,'' Weiss said. "The work I was doing in practice finally showed up on the ice, and I was just happy and relieved. Practices have gone extremely well since then, and I've carried that through to my performances, too.
"I'm hoping this national championships will go well for me and I'll be able to continue this snowball of confidence and carry it through to the world championships.''