-- Michael Weiss intently eyed a backstage television as the marks of the final skater in today's concluding long program appeared. His forehead wrinkled. He spun abruptly and headed toward the ice, parting a curtain, searching for a scoreboard. Could it be? In fifth place at the start of the day, he had produced one of his best performances in years. The skaters in front of him, one after the other, had made mistakes or badly faltered.
"Did I," he muttered in confusion, "just win?"
The piercing screams that came from his wife and sports psychologist confirmed what beamed overhead at Bercy Sports Palace. With a clean and composed free skate that undid the damage of a shabby short program, and helped relieve the frustration of a turbulent season, Weiss stole an unlikely title at Trophee Lalique. China's Min Zhang finished second and Japan's Takeshi Honda third.
Weiss's performance, which included seven triples and a pair of barely two-footed quadruple jumps, brought U.S. judge Gale Tanger to tears. Moments after punching in her final scores, Tanger, her cheeks streaked with tears, ran to Weiss and wrapped her arms around his neck. "It was just so wonderful," Tanger told Weiss, wiping her eyes.
"You could tell," she said later, "he was just on."
Today offered a showcase for The Good Michael Weiss. Friday featured The Bad. It has been the story of his season. The two-time bronze world medalist from McLean is unlikely to make the Grand Prix Final in St. Petersburg, Russia, in February because of a variety of ups and downs -- with more of the latter -- in recent weeks.
"I just feel like I'm schizophrenic," Weiss, 26, said. "I can go out one night and not land anything, and go out the next night and land everything."
After Weiss finished fifth at Skate America in Spokane, Wash., in October, he left his lifelong coach, Audrey Weisiger, and hired Laurel's Don Laws, the former coach of Scott Hamilton. With Laws at his side in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, last weekend, Weiss still managed only a fourth place after a disastrous short program.
Laws could not attend this event because of previous obligations. So Weiss, for the first time in his career, trained and performed with only his choreographer and wife Lisa Thornton-Weiss and sports psychologist Christopher Morrison at his side. Weiss called Laws after every practice session, but the situation felt odd.
Morrison, whom Weiss hired a couple of years ago, tried to keep Weiss focused, asking him earlier this week what he would do if he won the event's crystal trophy and $30,000 in prize money.
"Pop the cork on some champagne," Weiss had said, adding "on top of the Eiffel Tower."
Morrison set the goal in stone by purchasing the champagne, which seemed, until late this afternoon, a very bad idea. Weiss, however, refused to stop hoping. With today's long program worth two-thirds of the final score, Weiss knew he could still win if he finished first this afternoon and benefited from a flood of good fortune. He needed Frenchman Brian Joubert, first after the long program, and Honda, who was second, both to finish third or lower. Joubert fell twice and finished fifth; Honda made mistakes and landed in fourth.
Weiss punched the air at the conclusion of his free skate. His jumps were mostly clean; his footwork was lively and original; his spins were upright and strong. There was, after all the doubt, a cork to be popped.
"I always think I have a chance," he said. "But, jeez, I did it the hard way.
"I need," Weiss said to Morrison, "to make my alter-ego show up more often."
"No," Morrison said, "your alter-ego is the one you need to get rid of."