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Fairfax Skater Has First Practice on White Ring

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 1998; Page C1




NAGANO, Feb. 6 (Friday) — For weeks now, Michael Weiss has been wearing a watch that has two faces: The main face shows Eastern Standard Time, and the inset, which is digital, shows what he has termed "Nagano time." This morning, he took off that watch before his first practice here at White Ring, the rink that will play host to the figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics. And, when he did so, Weiss couldn't help but smile at the fact that the time he read on his wrist now was in perfect sync with his life.

Weiss, a Fairfax native and a competitor here in men's figure skating, was exuberant after he finished his 45-minute workout, which included shared ice time with four other skaters, American teammate and medal favorite Todd Eldredge among them. Freshly arrived but well over his jet lag (he spent a few days regrouping in Osaka), Weiss did a run-through of his short program that went off without a hitch. And though he had not been on the ice for four days — and though it was his first time at this particular rink — he looked perfectly at home.

"The first practice I always know is going to be the toughest," he said. "It's good to get through. And it's great to finally be here."

Weiss arrived here late Thursday, and though he barely had time to check in at the athletes' village and unpack his belongings, he could not stop himself from sneaking over to White Ring to take a peek at the building that he hopes will become home to his greatest dreams. It was bigger than he had anticipated, bigger and more impressive, and, for a brief moment, quite overwhelming for the 21-year-old who has spent most of his life practicing with preteens at the Fairfax Ice Arena.

"It's definitely breathtaking when you first walk in," he said. "You try and imagine what [the Olympics] are going to be like, but already it has been much more than I imagined."

With his coach, Audrey Weisiger, there to observe, Weiss attempted one quadruple Lutz during today's practice, but stepped out. Here at the Olympics, Weiss hopes to become the first American to land a quadruple jump, and Weisiger could not help but laugh at the excitement that possibility raises in observers.

"I could hear some people behind me saying, 'When you see him gliding backward — That's it! That's it!'" she said, smiling. "But that's not always true."

Weisiger said that Weiss does not plan to change the programs that earned him second place (behind Eldredge) at the nationals in Philadelphia last month. "It's just getting better," she said. The reaction from the crowd at the event — Weiss's scores were met with more than a smattering of disappointed boos — was indicative of many people's feeling that Weiss, not Eldredge, should have won that competition. But Weiss is happy to be here as the underdog, rather than a medal favorite like the veteran Eldredge, as well as Russian hopeful Ilia Kulik (the gold medal front-runner) and Canada's Elvis Stojko.

"I'm skating well enough, but I know I will need help with the judges," Weiss said. "I have to create a moment with the crowd.

"But my dad told me a couple of years ago that if you make an Olympic team the first one is the easiest one [in which] to medal because the pressure isn't on you."

Weiss's father should know. Greg Weiss competed as a gymnast at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The Weiss family — and Michael's wife, Lisa Thornton-are scheduled to arrive on Monday and will have a few days to shake off their jet lag before Weiss skates in his first competition — the short program — next Thursday. The long program is scheduled for Feb. 14.

"There's so much to see, so much to do," said Weiss, who is still a bit starry-eyed by the entire Olympic experience. "It's unbelievable to finally be here."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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