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US Skater Lysacek Hopes 'Carmen' is Golden in Turin


He was only two-years-old when German Katarina Witt won the Olympic figure skating gold medal in 1988 with her passionate skate to Bizet's "Carmen." U.S. men's figure skater Evan Lysacek is hoping the tragedy of the gypsy girl can bring him Olympic gold in Turin.

Evan Lysacek says he does not know much about the Olympic history connected to Bizet's Opera "Carmen." He was only two when Katarina Witt and American Debbie Thomas both used the music to skate to in the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. But Lysacek has used the opera for his long program since dumping the upbeat "Grease" shortly after the Skate America competition in late October.

Evan Lysacek started skating at age eight and originally wanted to be an ice hockey player. He began skating lessons shortly after receiving a pair of skates from his grandmother, who had wanted to be in the Ice Capades.

While Evan's eyes were still on the hockey rink, a coach noticed his style and offered to coach Lysacek in figure skating. One year later, the Naperville, Illinois, native won his first national title at the juvenile level. Lysacek later won the silver at the 2001, 2002 and 2003 World Junior Championships.

In only his first season on the senior circuit, the American surprised many people by taking the bronze medal at the 2005 World Championships in Moscow last March.

His medal came using a new scoring system implemented since a bribery and influence scandal tainted the results at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Lysacek says that the new judging system was only part of the secret to his success.

"Actually, I think the new judging system has been some part of my success, but most of it was just going out as many times as I could last year and doing my best at every competition," he explained.

This season, he finished second at Skate America in October and second at the NHK Trophy in Japan in December.

His two second-placed finishes were enough to qualify for the International Skating Union's Grand Prix final in Japan.

Lysacek wanted to get as much experience using the new system, but changing his program has meant working out an entirely new free skate. He had just over one month to find music, plan a routine, and plan the jumps and the transitions. At the NHK Trophy, Lysacek delivered eight triple jumps, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

Though this is only his second year on the senior circuit, Lysacek says he has learned some valuable lessons, including making sure his program excites the crowd.

"In my opinion the skating order is less important and more of the responsibility is on us now to go out and excite the crowd whatever number we skate," he added. "Technically the new judging system is going to reward you for what you do that day."

But to make the transition from the Grand Prix circuit to the Olympics, Evan Lysacek will need to step up his program. Thanks to his second place finish at the world championships, combined with teammate Johnny Weir's fourth place, the U.S. team has three men's figure skating slots for Turin.

Lysacek says that the U.S. team has the talent needed to take home an Olympic medal.

"We are a very diverse group, personality-wise and also on the ice. We skate different, we present different, we jump differently and I think that audiences are beginning to appreciate that," he noted. "I know at least the feedback that I am getting is that they are recognizing and appreciating that."

One hurdle that could thwart Lysacek's Olympic dream is injury. In March of 2004, he suffered a break in his left hip socket that eventually caused a stress fracture in the hip itself as it began healing incorrectly.

He struggled with his spins at the NHK Trophy because of inflammation in his hip, but Lysacek is determined not to let the injury hinder his dream of competing in Turin.

Before he can realize his Olympic dream, Lysacek must compete in the U.S. championships in St. Louis, Missouri in January. No American man has won the Olympic figure skating gold medal since the last time "Carmen" was heard on the Olympic ice, in 1988 when Brian Boitano took the title. That year, German Katarina Witt used the opera for her gold-medal program. Evan Lysacek is hoping that this time the men's gold medalist will be the one skating to Bizet's music.

The U.S. will name its Olympic Figure Skating team January 15, 2006, after the National Championships.