Michael Weiss easily could have skated into the sunset. He could have hung up his world and national medals on a mantle in his home in McLean, chalked up his two trips to the Olympics as memorable moments and been gone.
Before the last Olympics in Salt Lake City, where Weiss placed seventh, those thoughts admittedly crept into his mind.
After the Games, however, he began to think otherwise. It would be difficult after years of competing to suddenly stop. Shortly after finishing sixth in the world championships, while he was in the midst of a rigorous, 86-city tour, he realized that his competitive skating career was not over.
"I still have that competitive fire," said Weiss, 26, who will skate in his first major event of the season this week at Skate America in Spokane, Wash. "I still don't know how many more years I'll skate. I could stay another four years. I'm not really sure."
In order to keep Weiss motivated for perhaps a third Olympic run -- or, at the very least, a trip to the world championships, which will be held in March at MCI Center -- longtime coach Audrey Weisiger concocted a wide-ranging plan filled with all sorts of tricks and changes.
One of the first was adding Don Laws, who guided Scott Hamilton to the Olympic gold medal in 1984, into her coaching mix. She also enlisted help from a young coach named Ross Lansel, who toured with Disney on Ice, to invent fancy footwork for Weiss's short program.
She also has been pushing Weiss to the limits with his jumps. Weiss is resurrecting one quadruple jump from his past, a quad lutz -- a maneuver no skater has ever landed clean in competition -- and is also practicing and sometimes landing a quadruple flip. Weiss said he plans on attempting the quad lutz at Skate America, where he will compete against the likes of Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin.
As if that wasn't enough, Weiss also is wearing an innovative new skate blade, which curves up at the heel unlike regular blades, which are straight. The blade, conceived by Nick Perna, a coach who works at Fairfax Ice Arena where Weiss has trained for years, is called the Freedom Blade. The blades are being manufactured in England and have been approved by the International Skating Union.
And just for kicks, Weiss is even practicing back flips with a full twist for show numbers. The son of an Olympic gymnast, it's no wonder Weiss might be the first to achieve such a feat on ice.
"It's really fun," said Weiss of the back flips. "My dad worked with Scott Hamilton on a back flip full but Scott said, 'No way, that's too crazy.' When I had the Champions on Ice crowd at my house this summer, we took out a trampoline and then I started practicing it."
And if he's happy, then Weisiger is, too.
"My plan with Mike this year is to have very little predictability," said Weisiger, who has coached Weiss for 17 years. "I wanted to help motivate him and I think his desire is huge right now."
In the past, Weiss trained solely at Fairfax. These days, he and Weisiger drive all around the Beltway to various rinks. Once a week, Weiss treks out to Laurel to work with Laws.
Originally, Weisiger thought of Laws because she was looking for someone to travel with Weiss to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a pro-am earlier this month. Weisiger's daughter is a college freshman and parents' weekend conflicted with the competition. But Weisiger also wanted a new voice for Weiss and thought Laws, an even-keeled coach with decades of experience, would be a good choice.
As soon as the skating community saw Laws with Weiss in Florida, rumors began circulating that Weiss was leaving Weisiger -- a rumor that all parties said couldn't be farther from the truth.
"I really like working with Michael and I'm having a lot of fun, but don't get this wrong," Laws said. "I like Audrey as a boss, and she is the boss. I've told her that."
"Don puts a different twist on things for me," Weiss said after a recent practice in Laurel. "Sometimes, you hear the same things from people but it comes through a little differently.
"And Don's a very positive person. Some people might say, 'Why do you need a quad lutz? You can skate clean and win without it.' But Don says, 'Hey, why not? Try it.' I like that."
Weiss isn't just pushing the limits with the jumps, but with the footwork sequences as well. In the past, skaters often overlooked the footwork because the focus has been on the jumps. Yagudin changed that philosophy by performing intricate footwork as well as landing quads in the last Olympics.
The new blades Weiss has been wearing have enabled him to rock back on his heels, opening a whole new door to the way steps can be done. It took a few days for Weiss to become comfortable with the blades, but now he doesn't set foot on the ice without them.
"He wore them in April and got some rave reviews when people saw them on TV," Perna said. "When people saw him doing the stuff on his heels, they didn't know how he was doing what he was doing. It's totally new territory and that's what makes it so neat. I think it's really sparked his passion for skating. He's like a kid with a new toy."
Lansel, who helped design Weiss's new steps, said they have created names for some of the moves since no one else has ever been able to perform them. One such maneuver Weiss does is a "heely," in which he coasts across the ice on both ankles.
How much Weiss's makeover will impact his status among the top contenders in the world remains to be seen. Weiss didn't win over the judges in the made-for-TV event in Daytona, but many skating insiders and fans alike believe he was the true winner. All of the other competitors fell. Weiss was virtually flawless but wound up third. Flashes of the judging scandal in Salt Lake City came across the minds who witnessed the event.
"The audience was like, 'What happened?' " Weiss said. "That's what we saw in the Olympics and it's happening again."
Perhaps this week in Spokane, things will be different.
"At Skate America, I just want to build upon what I did in Daytona," Weiss said, and then smiled. "Hopefully, I can win over some of the judges that I couldn't in Daytona."