Weiss Sees His Chance at a Medal Slip Away
By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 1998; Page C1
NAGANO, Feb. 12 Michael Weiss picked himself up from the ice and skated for more than a minute and a half before reality struck tonight at White Ring, home to the 1998 Olympic men's figure skating competition. He finished his program, stood at center ice, and only then did his face show first shock, then the slow dawn of understanding. He had fallen on his triple Axel. His Olympic medal hopes were gone.
Weiss, who is from Fairfax, opened too wide on the second of his three required jumps in the men's short program and fell to his knees, both hands scraping the ice. With his technical scores heavily deducted for his fall the Axel was the beginning of what was supposed to be a combination triple Axel triple toe loop, one of the required elements of the short program Weiss finished 11th out of 29 skaters and has no chance for a medal no matter how he performs in Saturday's long program.
Russia's Ilia Kulik was in first place after the short program, followed by Canada's Elvis Stojko and the United States's Todd Eldredge. Those three all have been considered strong medal favorites at these Games.
"I think I was more shocked than anything," Weiss said later, while his wife, Lisa Thornton Weiss, gently rubbed his right shoulder in consolation. "I don't think I even realized it until a minute or a minute and a half later, then I'm thinking, 'Wow, I went down.' Since the whole rest of the program went so smoothly, I just couldn't believe it."
From the moment he stepped on the ice for warmups, Weiss said, he felt that his Olympic debut was going to be as good as he had long dreamed. He was wearing his father's 1964 Olympic jacket a gift he was given after he qualified for the Games and though the blue warmup with the red and white "USA" across the back fit a little too snugly (Greg Weiss was a gymnast, and is smaller than his son), it made Michael feel lucky.
"I think his coat was a little lucky," he said. "I had a good warmup."
And when he landed the triple Axel combination perfectly in his warmup, he sensed even more strongly that this night could be great.
"It was nice to look up and see my family there and see that everyone had made it," said Weiss, who had a crowd of supporters in the stands, ranging from his parents, Greg and Margie, and his in-laws (who waved a "Washington for Weiss!" banner) to his 4-month-old niece, Summer Dalrymple, the daughter of his sister Geremi.
He also had a good start to his program, which includes a triple Lutz as the first of his three required jumps. He performed the Lutz brilliantly, high and strong. Seconds later, though, he felt as if he was too loose in the air on his triple Axel, and he came down onto his knees, unable to recover to complete the combination.
Weiss finished the rest of the program without a flaw, having done seven of the eight required elements, which are three jumps, three spins and two sequences of footwork. It did not matter. His technical scores ranged from 4.6 to 5.1 on a scale of 6. His scores for presentation fell between 5.0 and 5.6.
"It's tough to come out and hit all eight elements," he said. "You make one mistake, and that's the end of the program. Unfortunately, I made one."
Weiss was not expected to win a medal although he was considered to have an outside shot and had put little pressure on himself this week, consistently stating that he was thrilled simply to have made the U.S. team. Just 21 years old, he is hopeful that this is only his first Olympics, and that he will have an opportunity to compete for a medal on his home soil when the Winter Games are staged in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Weiss always has been a bit different than most skaters, remaining home in Fairfax to train rather than moving to one of the skating hotbeds in Michigan or California. He plays hockey and has a business degree from a community college. Skating is the center of his life, but it does not consume him.
And, less than a half-hour after he watched his scores flash onto the big board, Weiss changed out of his skating costume and climbed into the stands and crouched on the cement stairs next to his parents to watch his teammate, Eldredge, perform. He clapped fiercely when Eldredge nailed all of his jumps, and when the crowd rose in a roar at the program's conclusion, Weiss was among those standing to cheer.
"The whole Olympic experience has been great," he said. "Just being a part of the team is great. It's a dream. ... My dad told me that no matter what happens from here on out, you'll be an Olympian. And he's right. That's a great feeling."
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