PORTLAND — Tim Goebel’s music came to a stop and the crowd rose to its feet with thunderous applause. In the center of the ice, Goebel looked heavenward, no longer able to contain his sadness and grief.
Tears spilled down his cheeks and his shoulders heaved with sobs. He skated off the ice and buried his face in coach Audrey Weisiger’s shoulder. In winning the men’s short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday night, he had proven emphatically that not only was he back from last year’s disastrous showing, he was in world-class form.
But after the sudden death of close friend Angela Nikodinov’s mother, skating wasn’t quite so important.
“Certainly by Saturday I’ll be able to be a little bit more collected and probably won’t be quite as tired at the end because I’m really emotionally drained,” Goebel said. “As hard as this is, I’m still here to do a job. I have the world team to make, and I have some demons to beat from last year having such a disastrous skate.
“So I’m going to take tomorrow and refocus, and I’ll be back on Saturday to do my job.”
Last year’s champion, Johnny Weir, was second after a solid, but subdued performance. Weir has the heavy burden of defending a title for the first time, and he looked as if he was feeling it. He had to struggle to hold the landing on his triple axel and triple flip, and his program didn’t have his usual flare.
Evan Lysacek was third with a striking program to Spanish music that earned him a perfect 6.0 for presentation.
Goebel has been close friends with Nikodinov, a two-time U.S. bronze medalist.
The two used to train at the same rink, and when Nikodinov’s beloved coach, Elena Tcherkasskaia, died of pancreatic cancer in November 2001, it was Goebel who helped pull her through it.
Now Nikodinov is facing an even greater tragedy. Her mother, Dolores, was killed Wednesday morning in a car accident as the family drove from the Portland airport.
Three perfect marks for Kwan
After all these years, there’s still no one who does it better than Michelle Kwan.
Kwan earned three perfect 6.0s for presentation, giving a moving performance that won her the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and took her a step closer to history. If she wins the free skate Saturday night, she’ll win her ninth U.S. title and tie the record set by Maribel Vinson Owen in the 1920s and 1930s.
When she saw her marks, Kwan gasped and nudged coach Rafael Artunian. When the crowd clapped, she grinned and punched the air like a prize fighter. Sasha Cohen is second after a bland and slightly flawed performance. The closest she could come to Kwan was in the warmups, when she nearly ran into Kwan. Cohen put a hand down on her triple lutz, and the landing of her double axel was a little rough, too.
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