For the third straight year, Weir takes first in U.S. Championship

Sunday, January 15, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:29 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Even when Johnny Weir isn’t as majestic as usual, he’s good enough to beat the American men and earn a spot in the Olympics.

Weir won his third straight U.S. Figure Skating Championships crown Saturday night despite finishing third in the free skate. The national champion automatically gets a berth for the Turin Games, where Weir will need to amp up the showmanship that is his trademark if he hopes to win a medal.

"Being the third-time national champion is really an awesome feat," Weir said. "I wasn’t quite sure how I would achieve that after the year I’ve had so far.

"The program today definitely wasn’t up to par with my previous two wins," he said. "A lot I could have done better."

Evan Lysacek, the reigning world bronze medalist, won the free skate with 150.44 points and finished second overall at 224.47 to Weir’s 225.34. They were followed by surprising Matt Savoie, whose clutch performance reversed a long downward career spiral.

Lysacek and Savoie will join Weir in Turin after they were selected by an international committee from U.S. Figure Skating.

Three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss was fourth and walked out of the rink even as his marks were being displayed on the scoreboard.

"Well, that’s it," Weiss told his coach, Don Laws.

Weir, 21, battled injuries and the need to redesign his programs this season, and his best finish was a third at Cup of Russia. His short program at nationals displayed the same flamboyance and technical skill that should make him a threat at the Olympics.

But the free skate, although pleasant to watch, lacked fizz and earned him 142.06 points, well behind Lysacek and Savoie (149.86). Weir didn’t use all the ice, instead doing his elements — jumps, footwork, spins — in a circular manner. He wasn’t penalized much for it, but it took away from the overall aura of the routine.

Lysacek, 20, who switched long programs from "Grease" to "Carmen" this year, didn’t bring much fire to his routine until the end. His elements weren’t especially sharp, although he did space out his jumps well.

But the judges liked it a lot, boosting him to second overall.

"I’m so honored and the Olympics has been a lifelong dream of mine," he said. "I know I have tons of work ahead of me."

Savoie had, by far, his best skate at nationals in five years, a fluid routine marked by seven solid triple jumps and intriguing, old-school footwork that could be traced back to the days of compulsory figures. At times, it was mesmerizing.

But he fell on a triple lutz, and that probably cost him second place.

"Obviously I made a mistake and there were some unorganized parts of my program," Savoie said. "But it’s the best performance I’ve had all season. And better than some of my practices.

"I guess it was waiting for me."

A third Olympic spot was not awaiting Weiss, the final skater of the day. His program was filled with errors, and he shook his head in acknowledgment of his falling short even before everyone else knew.

"What can you say?" Weiss said. "Fresh off the ice, so I’m still in shock a little bit, certainly disappointed."

Tim Goebel won the 2002 Olympic bronze and was expected to be a dominant American.

Instead, injuries, coaching changes and some downright ugly performances plagued Goebel. He skated well at the 2005 nationals, but was 10th at last year’s world championships, beginning another slump that ran through this event.

The Quad King even struggled with the four-revolution jump that has been his province alone among Americans. And he popped both triple-axel attempts, totally offsetting his improved presentation.

When he left the ice on the verge of tears, he didn’t even acknowledge the crowd, a sad ending for the 2001 national champ.

"I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me," he said. "I wasted four years of my life. I don’t know what I’m going to do now."

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