Veteran U. S. skater Michael Weiss has a busy scheduled planned for 2004-2005, but it’s a bit different from the routine he’s followed for the last several years. “I will be doing three of Steve Disson’s events on NBC this winter, two tributes to Andrea Boccelli and Kenny Loggins, and a holiday special. Having the opportunity to skate to the live music of such legendary performers will be a great experience. I’ll also be doing sixteen Stars on Ice shows in February and March. That’s a change for me, while still competing.”
Weiss has traditionally appeared on the Champions on Ice tour, but not last summer. “I needed a break, if I am going to have a run at 2006,” he explained. “It was a short tour, so I was glad to spend the time vacationing and recovering from the last two seasons of work. I enjoyed some fantastic family time this spring and summer. Next year will be a busy one, so it was a needed rest.”
Weiss will also skate at several fundraisers for The Michael Weiss Foundation. The organization was created to address the issue of the high cost of figure skating and increased need for financial support for Olympic hopefuls. “I know when I was an up and coming athlete, being recognized for my accomplishments and encouraged through financial support inspired me as a young skater to work harder and increased my determination to succeed,” Weiss said. “It has been a dream of mine to inspire and support young skaters, and this is a way that I can help the future of figure skating.”
The Michael Weiss Foundation (MWF) will provide Olympic eligible United States figure skaters with financial support to assist in all facets of training and competition with an emphasis on continuing their education. The Foundation awarded three scholarships and two Wachovia Securities Diamond Performance Awards in 2004. If all goals are met in terms of fund raising, the MWF plans on awarding five skaters with $5,000 awards in the Spring of 2005.
The three-time U. S. national men’s champion opened the season by finishing third at Skate America in Pittsburgh and fourth at the NHK Trophy in Japan. Weiss continues to be coached by Don Laws with choreography by his wife, Lisa. As for new moves, Weiss said, “I’m using my Freedom blade heels as a transition into my triple flip this year. I also have some new spin positions to try to maximize points for the new spin levels.”
For the short program this season, Weiss is keeping his short to Henry V, but with added music and all new footwork and choreography. “My new long program was choreographed by Lisa,” Weiss said. “It is a rock and roll medley to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Bongo’s Mantra and Metallica’s Unforgiven. I wanted to again part from styles from the previous year. To go from a “Patriotic Medley” with Amazing Grace to rock and roll with Led Zeppelin is about as much of a change as you can make.”
Weiss surprised a lot of people when he chose a medley of military music for his long program last season. “I’m a very patriotic person,” Weiss stated. “I’m very proud of my heritage and my country. The United States has provided me and my family with a lot. In this time of uncertainty, the long program was my way of showing support through the art of figure skating. It was not a political statement about Iraq; it’s more of a statement of support for the USA. All parts of our country have different opinions. It’s part of the history and foundation of our country.”
“I don’t like to do the same programs every year,” Weiss explained. “I’ve had a lot of variety over my career. I’ve done everything from Van Halen and Metallica to Mozart and Beethoven, lots of different themes and programs. I don’t want to be labeled as one kind of skater. I want to broaden my artistic horizons to embrace all kinds of music. I always make the final music choice. I start with five or six choices for each program and narrow it down. In the end, the skater has to have a connection and a passion for the music that he uses.”
The 28-year-old has been skating since he was eight and has continued to compete even after contemporaries like Todd Eldredge, Elvis Stojko, and Alexei Yagudin have retired from eligible competition. “Life throws you a lot of twists and curves,” he said. “After the last Olympics, I was contemplating whether to continue to compete because it was an emotionally and physically draining year. But the next year was easy because it all went smoothly. Training was easy last year. But I’m taking it year by year. I have no set timetable. If training is as easy and I still enjoy competing and am motivated to get better, I’ll continue to compete. I’ll decide after Worlds each year whether I want to go on. I’ll re-evaluate how I’m feeling and if I have the same competitive drive, I may go on for 2006. But when you lose the competitive drive, it’s time to quit.”
In previous seasons, Weiss has won two bronze medals at Worlds, never finishing lower than seventh. He won another bronze at the 2001 Four Continents Championships, placed third at the 2003 ISU Grand Prix Final, and finished seventh twice at the Olympic Games. He was also the 1994 World Junior men’s champion.
“Right now, it’s exciting to be part of the change in judging,” he noted. “It’s a new adventure at each competition. It’s an exciting time for being in the sport. Right now it’s hard to say whether the Code of Points will help or hurt, but you have to think about your programs. At Trophée Lalique last year, my quad wasn’t there all week in practice, so it made more sense to go with the triple combination in the short program and give myself a chance in the long. I wanted to be within striking distance. When I’m skating well, my strategy wouldn’t change. I want to go out and skate two clean programs.”
“I still have the drive and I enjoy both competitions and shows,” he continued. “In shows, I can enjoy my skating and the audience more than in a competition. It’s not the same feeling in shows. I have a very different mindset. I try to do more gymnastics and unusual moves in the shows, things that the audience doesn’t normally see.”
Weiss has several trademark moves, including the Mike pike, a back flip, and the tornado. The tornado, the most spectacular move, is a back flip with a full twisting pike. Weiss recounted how the move was added to his repertoire. “You know my Dad was a gymnast,” he related. “He taught Scott Hamilton how to do a back flip. Dad was always teaching me on the trampoline and the dive board. But we hadn’t really done anything together in 13 or 14 years. Each year, Lisa and I have a party at our house when the tour comes to the Washington area. When we were having the party in the Olympic year, I had the trampoline set up out back and everyone was playing on it and doing tricks with my parents spotting.”
“Dad asked me to come up and demonstrate a back flip with a twist,” he remembered. “He hand spotted me and I did one. I don’t even remember how I did it. I guess the muscle memory is still there. The other skaters liked it and told me I ought to do it on ice. My Dad said that it would be ten times harder than the back flip. That it was really dangerous and that I needed to respect it. We prepared for it with a lot of practice on the tramp, then progressed to a harness on ice, then with a mat on the ice, and finally with hand spotting. Finally, I did it on my own. I can’t describe how scared I was. I had a helmet on but it was still one of those ‘face your fears’ type of elements.”
“The first time I tried it before a crowd was at the Hallmark show in Columbus,” Weiss continued. “My Dad was there and he was really worried. Everyone knew I was going to try it so they were giving me a wide berth in practice. Todd Eldredge was watching me and asking me, ‘Are you going to do it? Are you nervous? I’m nervous for you. I don’t want to see you fall on your head.’ I put both hands down on the first one, but on the third try I landed it on my own. The first really clean one was at the Collins show in D.C. After that I did it every night on tour. It was one way to get really focused every night. I moved it to the first element of my program so I could make sure I was not tired and could really focus on it. Now everybody wants to see it.”
Another of Weiss’ moves is skating the length of the ice in a spread-eagle on the heels of his specially designed John Watts skates. “Nick Perna came up with the idea of the round back on the skate,” Weiss explained. “We got together with John Watts in the UK on the design. He brought us prototypes and we made three or four changes until we got one that worked. It’s an interesting concept. There’s so many skaters out there doing things with their toes, but not with their heels. Some of the dance and pairs teams could add some cool things on their heels. I’m into trying new and different things. It keeps people watching when you bring new things in. People are saying, ‘What is he doing? I’ve never seen that.’ I like doing things that non-skating people think aren’t possible.”
Weiss comes from an athletic family. His father Greg was on the 1964 Olympic gymnastics team, his mother Margie was on the U. S. national gymnastics team, and oldest sister Genna is a six-time Junior World Champion in diving. Older sister Geremi is the other figure skater in the family, winning the U. S. Junior ladies silver medal in 1990 and the Merano Cup in Italy, and competing at St. Gervais and Oberstdorf . Weiss followed in the footsteps of both older sisters, becoming a regional diving champion as well as a figure skater. His gymnastics and diving background are evident in the tight rotations of his jumps and controlled landings.
“I train when the kids are at school,” Weiss continued. “Annie Mae is in kindergarten and Christopher is in pre-school. I get them up and make their breakfast, make sure they brush their teeth, make them dinner, and put them to bed. I like to do all the little things that make them know you.” He was named Father of the Year by the National Fatherhood Initiative in 1999.
As for his post-skating career, Weiss hasn’t made a solid commitment, but may return to the family business. “There’s a lot of members of my family that work with Gold’s Gym now and I may become more involved myself once my career is over,” he said. “I’ve invested in it financially, but haven’t had the time to work there like my sisters and their husbands. I got an associate degree in business management in 1998, but I haven’t had a chance to go any farther. Skating takes up so much time and with a family and kids, I don’t have time for school.”
“The nice thing about skating now is that it opens so many channels and other options,” he added. “Besides touring, there’s coaching, commentary, athlete management, a lot of different options that skaters didn’t use to have. I’m not leaning more one way or the other.” One of the things he does enjoy is motivational speaking and that may be where his future path may lead. Weiss is only involved in a few other business arrangements right now. “I have an endorsement deal with Wachovia Securities,” he said, “and I do some ads for John Watts skates and a few little things with other corporations and some speaking engagements.”
Although he spends most of his off-ice time with his family, Weiss takes time to work with Special Olympics in the Washington, DC area. “I like going to their camps, skating with their athletes, and supporting them,” he said. “They are such a loving and caring group of people. If they like you, they run and hug you. I find it very touching that they leave their inhibitions at the door. And their commitment is just fantastic.”
So is his.