Olympic Skating Team Decided At Men's Nationals

At this year's men's U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, Jeremy Abbott took first place for the second year in a row. He'll be joined on the American team at the upcoming Winter Olympics by Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir — who took second and third places.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Male figure skaters arent necessarily the most intimidating athletes out there, especially given those one piece sequined outfits they wear. Still, yesterday at the U.S. National Figure Skating championships in Spokane, Washington, the top three male skaters sent a message to the competition at next months Olympic Games - watch out. The three who qualified for Vancouver were Jeremy Abbott, Evan Lysacek and the always colorful Johnny Weir. NPRs Tom Goldman sent this report.

TOM GOLDMAN: You expect anxious moments at a major figure skating competition. Nerves are part of what happens when you live the tenuous life on top of a blade a fraction of an inch wide. So anxiety must have been in the air yesterday at the Spokane Arena. Why else would Daren Hildebrand(ph), a veteran professional singer, double clutch on the national anthem.

Mr. DAREN HILDEBRAND (Singer): Second time I started I missed the same line, but luckily everyone else knew it.

GOLDMAN: Indeed, the audience came to Hildebrands rescue so he could soar to the finish.

(Soundbite of song, "The Star-Spangled Banner")

Mr. HILDEBRAND: (Singing): Land of the free and the home of the brave.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of music)

GOLDMAN: The day may have started with nerves, but it ended with 24-year-old Jeremy Abbott in complete command on the ice. Abbott, the defending national champion performed with great style and power, landing all his jumps cleanly, including the elusive quad - four revolutions in the air. By the end of his four and a half minute free skate, Abbott spun a final blurry spin and the crowd was up and cheering for the two-time national champion.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. JEREMY ABBOTT (Figure skater): I was just so proud that this is probably the best performance Ive ever given in my entire life. But I know Im capable of so much more.

GOLDMAN: You hear that, Patrick Chan of Canada, Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, and all you other international stars. Abbotts got more in the tank. And so do his Olympic teammates. Yesterdays second place finisher and reigning world champion, Evan Lysacek said he used Spokane to try some new elements, including a quad, which started with him in the air and ended with him on his tush.

Mr. EVAN LYSACEK (Figure skater): What happened here is absolutely no reflection of what Im going to be like at the Olympics. And thats my one and only focus.

GOLDMAN: And in third place, resplendent in fox fur and sparkles.

Mr. JOHNNY WEIR (Figure skater): My costume looks pretty. So, I mean, Im happy about that.

GOLDMAN: The ever quotable former three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir was not particularly happy with his performance. He also said the best is yet to come.

Mr. WEIR: I definitely have tunnel vision, like Evan said. The one thing that I will be doing on a daily basis is training and running everything with my coaches and working as hard as I can. I don't want my career to be remembered as something mediocre.

GOLDMAN: For Weir to leapfrog his teammates and the other world greats at the Olympics he might need to add more oomph to his art, more athleticism in the form of a quad, to go with his flowing grace on the ice. Yesterday, Weir hedged on the quad issue, saying hed rather skate an excellent clean program with what hes got. Lysacek, who failed on his quad attempt in Spokane, egged on his teammate.

Mr. LYSACEK: Just go for it. Just do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEIR: Don't start with me. Not up here.

GOLDMAN: A month from today, the mens free skate in Vancouver will determine whether Weir or Lysacek or Abbott can make good on their promises and deliver the first U.S. mens figure skating Olympic gold medal in 22 years.

Tom Goldman, NPR, Spokane.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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