Two-time Olympic figure skater Michael Weiss decided to leave his coach of nearly 18 years, Audrey Weisiger, to work with Don Laws, who is best known for guiding Scott Hamilton to the gold medal in 1984.

Weiss, 26, of McLean, said he made the decision the morning after his long program at Skate America this past weekend in Spokane, Wash. Skate America was Weiss's first major international competition of the season and he finished a disappointing fifth.

"After working with someone a long time, you kind of reach a plateau," Weiss said. "I needed a change to spark my competitive fire. I want to win again."

Weiss had been working with Laws on a limited basis, upon the urging of Weisiger, in hopes of finding that missing spark. Over the years, Weisiger had sent Weiss to other elite coaches to gain new perspectives on the sport. So when she suggested Weiss train a bit with Laws, she did not suspect Weiss ultimately would leave her.

The change caught Weisiger and Laws off guard. In fact, earlier this month, when Laws traveled with Weiss to a made-for-TV pro-am event in Daytona Beach, Fla., instead of Weisiger, rumors circulated that Weiss was leaving. But all parties involved insisted that was not the case. Weisiger missed the competition because her daughter is a college freshman and parents' weekend conflicted with the event.

Although surprised by the news, Weisiger said, "I wish Michael the best. Don and I are still friends and Michael and I are still friends."

Weiss admitted the decision to leave Weisiger was heart-wrenching but one that he had to make if he were to succeed this season. After finishing seventh in the Salt Lake City Olympics, Weiss began to ponder his skating future. He even considered retiring from Olympic-style competition. Ultimately, the two-time national champion and two-time world bronze medalist decided that his career was not over.

One motivating factor for him to continue to compete was that the World Figure Skating Championships will be held in March in Washington. The championships are set for March 24-30 at MCI Center.

In order to succeed, Weiss decided to make several changes this season. He began skating at various rinks around the Beltway, he started wearing a new, innovative blade and he started taking lessons from Laws.

The changes proved promising for Weiss in Daytona, where he placed third but many skating insiders thought he was the class of the field. But after Skate America, Weiss began to wonder if he was really back on track.

Weisiger, who had been with Weiss through several ups and downs, was not the only one surprised by the news. Laws seemed equally caught off guard. As the figure skating director at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel and as a co-chair on the International Skating Union's coaches committee, Laws has had his hands full without coaching a skater of Weiss's caliber, too.

"This surprised me," Laws said. "It really did. We had just gotten started. I had to do a little reflection about this, but yes, I am excited."

Weiss's next major competitions are in Germany and France next month. His goals are to do well in those and then finish high enough at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January to qualify for the world championships.

If he is to achieve those goals, he will have to do so without Weisiger at his side.

"She's been my coach for 18 years," Weiss said. "And she's been much more than that, too.

"I consider her family. It's like having a brother or sister. No matter what, they're always your brother or sister. She has basically taught me everything I know. Audrey will always be my coach."