|Tuesday, January 16
Updated: January 17, 11:47 AM ET
Experience has changed Weiss
BOSTON -- Four years ago, Michael Weiss was a brash young man, skating to Santana's searing guitar riffs, wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and almost landing the first quadruple jump by an American.
"That really was like my coming out party," he said. "It was probably the first time I'd really skated well at national championships at the senior level. At this stage, it's so different. I'm already established, already the defending champion."
Yes, life has changed quite a bit for Weiss in the past four years. The tie-dyes and Santana have been shelved for more classical works of music that showcase his full abilities as a skater. He still has the jumps, but it's his artistry that draws oohs and aahs now.
He got married, and he and his wife are now the proud parents of two toddlers. No longer an up-and-comer who's pounding on the door, Weiss is the two-time defending U.S. champion and bronze medalist at the last two world championships.
"I feel like I've grown a lot, not only artistically with my programs, but also mentally," he said. "My mindset going into competitions the last couple of years, you just have a mental edge you didn't have four years ago."
Call it a mental edge, call it confidence in his abilities, call it whatever you want. But Weiss arrives at this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships with an unshakable belief in himself, even though the men's competition will be the toughest it's been in years.
Weiss will be challenged not only by Quad King Timothy Goebel, but by Todd Eldredge, the five-time U.S. champion who is returning to nationals after a two-year absence.
"Todd is somebody that, before he (took time off), I hadn't beaten him before. ... But I'm a very different skater, obviously, than I was three or four years ago," Weiss said.
"The pressure's on all three of us," he added. "The national championships every year is always really fun. There's always a story, there's always a lot of excitement, there's always a lot of pressure on the skaters. All of the skaters expect that kind of drama and pressure, and this is definitely going to be no different."
Weiss could become the first man to win three straight U.S. titles since Brian Boitano won four from 1985-88 if he repeats this week. But there's much more at stake than a title and a piece of history. The United States can only send two men to the world championships this year, so whoever comes in third this week will be sitting home in March.
With the Olympics only a year away, the world championships is a huge competition. Not only will it determine how many skaters the United States can send to Salt Lake, it's face time with the judges.
When a gold medal is at stake, it's never too early to start jockeying for position.
"I don't think I'm any more nervous than normal. It's more excitement and adrenaline than nerves," Weiss said. "I live for (nationals) every year. The last four years at national championships have been my best event. Every year I seem to thrive on that."
Weiss has missed most of this season with a stress fracture in his left foot. He had to withdraw from Skate America and Trophy Lalique, and, hampered by the injury, he finished sixth at Cup of Russia.
Goebel, meanwhile, upset world champion Alexei Yagudin at Skate America with a program that included three quadruple jumps, and has made strides in improving his artistry, his downfall at nationals last year.
Eldredge finished second at Skate Canada and third at Skate America in his first year of full-time competition since 1998.
"Timmy and Todd have had good years," Weiss said. "I know they're definitely coming in here to skate well at this event. Every year is like that. Every year at national championships is like a big showdown, and this year is no different."
But Weiss has come a long way since his coming out party four years ago. Now it's up to Goebel and Eldredge to chase him.
"The last two years, in U.S. men's figure skating, I've kind of been it," Weiss said. "It's going to be more of a question of, can Todd come back and perform at this level again? Has Tim worked enough on his artistry to be rewarded?
"I've given them exactly what they've wanted the last couple of years, which are well-rounded, solid performances. Hopefully, I can give it to them again this year. I know they're expecting it."