|Friday, December 28
Family gives Weiss stability, security in Olympic quest
While the rest of the medal favorites were warming up for the Olympics at the Grand Prix finals, Michael Weiss was at a Christmas pageant, watching his 3-year-old daughter sing carols with her class.
Video camera in hand, he was just another proud dad, not a two-time U.S. figure skating champion hoping to make his second Olympic team next month.
"Those things are really important to me," he said. "Skating is a big part of my life, but it's one part. Having a wife and having a family, having two children, puts everything in perspective.
"Family and kids -- that's what's really important in life."
Fellow Americans Todd Eldredge and Timothy Goebel, both bachelors, might have a different take. Then again, Weiss has never been a "typical" skater.
While skating tends to be a nomadic sport, with most top athletes training hundreds of miles from home, Weiss has never left Fairfax, Va. He's trained with the same coach, Audrey Weisiger, since he was 9.
Most skaters put their personal lives on hold to train, doing schoolwork through correspondence and hanging out with other skaters. At 25, Weiss has been married four years. He and wife Lisa have two young children, Annie Mae and 2-year-old Christopher.
"I grew up in a family that was a very close family. We helped each other out and were very supportive," he said. "When I first got married, everyone was kind of writing off my skating career, saying, 'Well, he's got more important things to worry about now.' With me, it's just added more to my team and to my support group.
"I know that whatever happens, my kids are going to love me."
Five months after Annie Mae was born, he won his first U.S. title and was a bronze medalist at the 1999 world championships. A year later, Christopher was born, and Weiss added a second U.S. crown and another bronze from worlds.
"I just find that so insulting when people say Michael's not focused," Weisiger said. "If anything, his desire to provide for his family has made him more focused than ever."
The security and support of his family have been even more crucial the past two years, as injuries and inconsistency have made him almost an afterthought in the Olympic gold rush.
He missed most of last season with a stress fracture in his left foot and finished fourth at nationals after a disastrous free skate, costing himself a spot on the world team.
He started this season strong, beating Alexei Yagudin and finishing second to world champion Yevgeny Plushchenko at the Goodwill Games. But he struggled at Skate America and Nations Cup, and didn't qualify for the Grand Prix finals.
"I've been training really well and there's been flashes of greatness at certain events and not so good at other events," Weiss said. "The good thing about being hot and cold is at some point you're going to be hot. ... I think I'll be able to put it together at the national championships."
And for some reason, he seems to thrive in this environment. An intense competitor, he's always been at his best when challenged.
"I seem to perform better when I'm backed into a corner," he said. "And I'm certainly in that position right now."
While his family will always be his priority, redeeming himself at nationals and doing well in Salt Lake City is a big deal to him.
He'll be only 29 in 2006, so he could stick around for another four years. Realistically, though, this is probably his last shot at an Olympic medal.
So he's working harder than ever. A typical day starts with breakfast with his family. Then it's off to the rink for morning practice, which runs about 90 minutes. He'll stretch or work out for another hour and then break for lunch, joining Lisa and the kids when he can.
He has another practice session in the afternoon and gets home about 3:30 p.m., just in time for the children to wake up from their naps. Because Lisa -- who is also Weiss' choreographer -- has had them by herself all day, Weiss takes over until the kids go to bed around 8:30 p.m.
Then finally there's a little time to relax with his wife and get some work done in his office.
"Lisa and I used to say we were so busy," Weiss said, laughing. "Those words, you just don't understand until you have one and then two kids. You just don't know the meaning of busy until you can't even take a shower by yourself. You can't do those things without a child pulling at you or getting into your toothpaste drawer.
"I couldn't imagine not having them now. They're amazing."
Annie Mae and Christopher spend plenty of time at the practice rink -- Annie Mae just started group lessons -- and go with their parents to competitions. When Weiss signs autographs, Annie Mae likes to sit on his lap.
But they're still too young to fully understand what it means. They don't realize what quadruple jumps or national titles are. After Weiss bombed in the free skate at nationals last year, the kids were as excited to see him as they had been the year before -- when he'd won the U.S. title.
That was worth more than any medal.
"That's a comforting feeling," he said, "to know that no matter what, my family's going to be there for me."