Friday, July 22, 2011

Lysacek brings blades of gold

Saturday’s Ice Show headliner is a special skater

Express Staff Writer

Evan Lysacek, third from right, takes a break last weekend with members of the Sun Valley Ice Show performance team. They include, from left, ice dancers Brent Bommentre and Kimberly Navarro, pairs skaters Natalia Zaitseva and Bert Cording, Ashley Clark, Lysacek, Jozef Sabovcik and Craig Heath. Photo by Willy Cook

For figure skating fans, Evan Lysacek needs little introduction. When he takes center ice at Saturday's Sun Valley Ice Show, the audience will be keenly aware that they are watching skating royalty.

He's the 2011 Olympic men's figure skating gold medalist, the 2009 world champion, the 2007 and 2008 U.S. national champion and the 2009-10 Grand Prix Final king.

But at this particular show Saturday, Lysacek will, with his performance, be mentoring dozens of young skaters who are in Sun Valley competing at the U.S. Collegiate Championships and the Sun Valley Summer Championships. These athletes, from all over the country and the world, will be watching his every gesture, every move, hoping to glean an understanding of just what makes him so special.

During a phone interview from what he called a "secret training location," Lysacek said he is excited that so many young skaters will be at the show this weekend and offered them what he called some "pretty basic" advice.

"There is no secret recipe, no secret formula," he said. "Everyone wants to know what the secret (to winning Olympic gold) is. Like so many other sports, so many other missions in life, it's about hard work. You get out what you put in."

While Lysacek's performances are powerful and graceful as well as fluid and passionate, he said there are no shortcuts. Even now, at age 26, he said he's still learning.

"I've made plenty of mistakes along the way," he said with a laugh. "I learned early in life that mistakes are great education tools. Failures have always taught me more than successes and wins. And in figure skating, which is a sport that is largely misunderstood, I am as accurate and honest as I can be as to how I train and prepare and just how much work it is."

To audiences, the effort that goes into skating at Lysacek's level is almost invisible. Most observers only see the dazzling grace, fluidity and showmanship that Lysacek has worked so hard to make look effortless.

On Sun Valley ice, however, Lysacek said he is actually as relaxed as he looks.

And that's largely because Sun Valley offers a unique setting for skaters. It's a rare treat to have a reigning Olympic champion in the valley for two straight weekend shows, but the magic of skating under the stars with an always-appreciative audience keeps Lysacek coming back.

"Sun Valley is an intimate environment," he said. "Unlike a big arena, here you can see and hear the audience. There's always a little different dynamic in Sun Valley. The dinner theater element also makes it a unique show."

It's not just Sun Valley's ice that Lysacek likes. This weekend may be his second in a row headlining the Sun Valley Ice Show, but it's his seventh year performing in Sun Valley.

"It feels like a second home," he said. "I absolutely love it here. I'm sorry I couldn't stay the week."

In fact, while he left the valley to train between his two scheduled shows, his family did stay for an extended vacation.

But maybe, someday, he will stay longer. And it may not be skating that keeps him here.


Last winter, after helping kick off Sun Valley Resort's 75th anniversary season, he traded skate edges for ski edges, taking his first turns ever on Dollar Mountain. He now has the bug.

"I skied for 10 days and took lessons every day," he said. "I had a great instructor. We spent one day on Dollar and I said, 'Hmmm, I think I'm ready for Baldy.' It was so amazing I actually had fantasies of getting really good."

For the time being, though, really good is what fans can always expect from Lysacek on the ice. So what is he planning to dazzle with Saturday night?

"The numbers that I'm doing are both kind of different for me," he said. "The first was choreographed by Travis Wall, the Emmy-award winning choreographer from television's 'So You Think You Can Dance?' and the song was written especially for me by a friend who was a contestant on 'American Idol.'"

"So I'm basically hitting all the reality TV shows," added Lysacek, himself a finalist on the program "Dancing with the Stars."

Joking aside, Lysacek said the song for the program has an uplifting message he thinks will resonate with Saturday night's audience—especially with all the aspiring skaters.

"The song will send a positive message to them," he said. "It's about getting up when you're down and having a positive attitude."

The second program he will skate will be a tango that he's thinking of converting into a short program for competition.

And that begs the inevitable question: Has Lysacek made a decision about whether to continue competing on the international level? His short answer is no.

"I'm training in full force in L.A. right now, working to get back into competitive shape," he said. "I want to have the option to go out and win competitions. The first Grand Prix is in October. Am I ready to go out and go for it?"

One thing he's sure about is that it doesn't make sense to retire simply because he took Olympic gold.

"In how many sports do you win the biggest prize and then retire because you won?" he said. "That happens in figure skating."

Having taken so many top prizes just motivates Lysacek.

"You keep going because you still want to be an athlete," he said. "I guess when you don't want to be an athlete, then you retire. But not because you won."

And as for the sport of figure skating in general, for the hundreds of young athletes in the audience watching every nuance of his program, Lysacek loves what it offers.

"Skating is great exercise. It provides excellent skills and lessons about life. It teaches determination. You can't blame outside factors for errors. You can't blame the ice, the weather or your skates. It's a wonderful sport where you take responsibility for yourself, both your successes and your challenges."

You can be sure the fans at Saturday night's show will take his word for it.

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