Sunday, September 7, 2014

Michael Weiss: A Colorful Career that Pushed Boundaries

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview 3-time U.S. Champion and 2-time World bronze medalist, Michael Weiss. I'm writing a preview story for a newspaper about the upcoming Family Tribute Ice Show, which is coming to the Penn State University campus for the second year. Michael will act as host (with Kristi Yamaguchi) and host. Michael was just as friendly and personable as I expected him to be. Having listened to him give countless interviews and having enjoyed his skating commentary in recent years, I was not surprised that he was easy-going and well-spoken. I really enjoyed our conversation and look forward to seeing him perform in the show! I saw Michael perform a few times live on the Stars on Ice tour and he always put on a great show with lots of enthusiasm, humor, and skating tricks!

Talking with Michael made me reflect on his career. Though I never really thought about it at the time, Michael was a bit of a boundary-pusher. The first year I remember seeing him skate was at the 1997 U.S. Nationals. He wore a right muscle shirt, skated to Santana, and attempted a quadruple-toe loop. The jump appeared to be clean and was unofficially credited as the first-quadruple toe loop performed in history at the U.S. Championships. The tape was later reviewed to reveal a slight two-footed landing and no-longer credited in the record books. But still--at the time, Michael was the only one trying quads. The following year, at the Olympic trials in Philadelphia (shown in the video below), he upped the ante and attempted a quadruple lutz--the first one ever attempted.(This was big news at the time. I lived in the Poconos, so since the championships were in nearby Philadelphia, we got the Philly news there. I remember seeing a clip of Michael's quad attempt all over the news after the event, and then talking about it the next day in my 8th grade social studies class with my seatmate, Derek). Even now in the age of quad, it's extremely rare to see a quad lutz (Brandon Mroz comes to mind), so Michael was really ahead of the trend.

In later years, Michael did some different and interesting things to bring attention to himself, and to the sport, in a positive way, I think. Michael focused on trying to bring a more masculine style to the sport. He skated to non-traditional, masculine music, such as Led Zeppelin and Metallica, and even skated in a costume that gave the appearance that he was skating shirtless and was full of tattos (see photo above).

Later, Michael developed the "Freedom Blade," a blade that curved at the heel and allowed him to skate on his heels. It was pretty cool, but the trend didn't seem to catch on, though I do recall seeing Olympic ice dancers Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukov use them. In exhibitions, Michael invented a move called a "Tornado" that was a combination of a backflip and a twist. Again, pretty cool.

In 2003 when Michael skated at the World Championships in Washington, D.C., his hometown area, the newspapers were full of a stories about Michael using hypnosis to help him focus and prepare for the competition. I've never heard of a skater using hypnosis before that and haven't heard of it since.

So all in all, I'd say that Michael had lots of progressive and unique moments in his career. He might not have reached the pinnacle of international success that he had set out to in the beginning of his career (though he was a two-time Olympian and that is nothing to scoff at!), but he was a terrific domestic champion and always presented himself with great integrity and class. Michael is a memorable champion in my book and he's done a great job performing at a high-level and providing quality entertainment in his professional career.

Hats off to you, Michael Weis. Thanks for being a great champion and ambassador for the sport!

Here's a video of Michael's silver-medal finish at the 1998 U.S. Nationals/ Olympic trials. Note his awesome attempt of the quad-lutz!

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