Goebel Is the Early Leader

Times staff writer

Olympic bronze medalist Tim Goebel, recently recovered from a hip injury, felt as if he had started the season with his short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. For Michael Weiss, it could have been the end.

Goebel stepped out of his triple axel, one of eight required elements, and did a quadruple toe loop-double toe loop instead of a planned quad-triple but was ranked first by eight of nine judges Thursday. Weiss, a two-time U.S. men's champion, fell on his triple axel, two-footed the first part of his combination jump and accumulated enough other deductions to place an unhappy fourth.

Johnny Weir of Newark, Del., the 2001 world junior champion, won the other first-place vote and is second. Matt Savoie, fourth at last year's U.S. competition, is third.

"I was surprised to be first with the program I skated," said Goebel, who trains in El Segundo, after debuting his "Romeo and Juliet" routine. "It wasn't up to my usual quality. I was really nervous. I usually have a few Grand Prix events to get ready for nationals. Nationals are the biggest event of the season."

The U.S. can send three men to the World Championships in Washington, Weiss' hometown, in March. He'll have to rally and hope those above him falter in Saturday's long program, worth two-thirds of the final score.

"I thought that [program] would have been good enough to be second," he said. "Some of the programs the other people are skating are things we did in juniors. I go out and do a quad toe-triple toe and miss one axel -- for the marks to be that low, I thought was ridiculous."

However, his coach, Don Laws, was blunt.

"He was marked correctly," Laws said. "We're disappointed. That was a bad skate."

Weir, 18, skated a clean if quad-less program to "Zydeko & Innocence." He hopes his performance sent a message to his elders.

"I'm not expecting to beat them," he said. "I want them to know next year, when I have a quad, I'll be going for first."

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