Michael Weiss thought he'd need a miracle to win his third U.S. figure skating championship Saturday. He got it, but in the form of a series of mistakes and mishaps that said little for the talent in the U.S. men's ranks.
Weiss, of Fairfax, Va., became the first U.S. men's champion since Scott Hamilton in 1984 to win the title without landing a triple axel, a performance that was the best of a frequently bad lot. Duplicating the fourth-to-first ascent Sarah Hughes made at the Salt Lake City Olympics, Weiss was ranked first in the long program despite falling on a quadruple lutz. He overtook Olympic bronze medalist Tim Goebel, who led after the short program but fell twice and failed to land three quads.
"There's no excuse for what happened. It's an embarrassment," Goebel, the 2001 champion, said of his third runner-up finish in four years. "I don't think under any circumstances I've performed this poorly."
Ryan Jahnke of Colorado Springs, Colo., who nearly quit the sport after finishing eighth last year, leaped from sixth to third after landing a triple axel for the first time in national competition. Johnny Weir, second after the short program, withdrew because of back and knee injuries after twice failing to get past the early minutes of his program. Matt Savoie, skating on a knee numbed to blunt the pain of tendinitis and ordered by referee Kathleen Flaherty to stop to refasten his flapping pants stirrup, dropped from third to fifth.
"It was amazing," said Weiss, who collided with a flower girl on the ice and waited 7 1/2 minutes for his cue because a computer malfunction delayed Savoie's scores. "All of the karma and drama and craziness that has lacked the last 10 years at the national championships happened in one event."
Based on Saturday's performances, the U.S. men will have a tough time winning a medal at the world championships in Washington, even though Alexei Yagudin's decision not to defend his world title opens up a spot.
Weir, skating second in the final group of six, fell into the boards early in his program and twisted his back. He was allowed to restart but fell on a triple axel and wrenched his knee, leading him to pull out. "It was very disappointing," he said.
Savoie had landed merely two triples before he was ordered to halt his "Ragtime" routine to fix his costume. "This week hasn't been normal by any means," he said.
Weiss fell on his quad lutz and doubled a triple axel but was decent by the day's standards. Jahnke, skating to "Cinderella," stepped out of his combination jump but landed six triples to finish third overall.