COLORADO SPRINGS – Sometimes clarity comes in the oddest ways in the oddest places at the oddest moments.
It was June. The reigning Olympic men’s figure skating champion was taking a 10-day vacation in Paris, staying at the Four Seasons George V, a hotel where a “moderate room” goes for about $1,000 a night. He was visiting art galleries, the Ralph Lauren “Art of the Automobile Show,” the Grand Palais show of Anish Kapoor, the artist who designed Millennium Park’s “Cloud Gate.”
And then he was staying up in his hotel room until the wee hours listening to figure skating music and watching figure skating videos on YouTube.
“I discovered I was missing the competitive aspect of it so much,” Lysacek told me. “I started to realize it on (Stars on Ice) tour, when the happiest moments of my day were when I had private training time by myself and I could do some practice.
“That was really telling for me, that I have always been an athlete that prefers the training and competing to the performing.”
When he returned from Europe, the skater from Naperville told his longtime coach, Frank Carroll, that he wanted to resume training. The goal, as he first told me Friday and then repeated at the dinner where he received the 2010 U.S. Olympic Committee sportsman of the year award, was to compete at the Sochi Winter Games – which would be Lysacek’s third Olympic appearance.
“I had the realization I like the life of an athlete, I like the consistency of training, I still want to feel that pride that was a real, viable goal at the end of every day," said Lysacek, who has not competed since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“The ultimate goal is Sochi. I’m not foolish to think it’s light years away. It’s going to be here before we know it. In skating, because it’s one of the higher profile sports, the buildup begins about a year before, and that’s kind of when I’m hoping to be at peak performance level.’’
Lysacek’s first competition could be Skate America Oct. 21-23, although he is not ready to commit to that.
“I’m not a point where I think I’m ready to lay it on the line just yet,” he said. “To a certain extent, every competition now will be going all in. I’m not necessarily a gambling man that takes crazy chances. I would like to know I’m really in shape before I step out there.”
Lysacek said his decision likely would come after he performs his new programs – with music he will not yet disclose – before a panel of judge monitors. He is working on three different permutations of short programs and intends to have a quadruple jump in the free skate. Lysacek wants to see the effect of scoring changes that limit some spin elements and reduce the value of the triple axel, the most difficult jump he did in winning the 2010Olympics.
He thinks dancing skills gained finishing second on Dancing With The Stars last year will give him a different quality of ice artistry.
“I want to bring a more developed version of myself back to the ice,” Lysacek said. “I would like to show I am not just back to where I was in Vancouver but I have improved since then.”
He may skate at the 2012 U.S. Championships in January even if he does not skate on the Grand Prix Circuit this fall.
“I’d love to do nationals," he said. "I have spent the past four months training, so I would hope it’s not for nothing.”
Lysacek, 26, who now has a home in Las Vegas and a residence in Los Angeles, has been training mainly at his old rink, the Toyota Sports Center near Los Angeles airport. Carroll is relocating his primary training base to a new rink 130 miles west in Cathedral City. He and the coach were to figure out new logistics after Carroll returns from this weekend’s Nebelhorn Trophy event in Germany.
For Lysacek, a critical psychological moment in deciding to come back was the realization he could cope with losing.
“I was a little bit afraid of losing the past couple years, especially after winning the (2009) world title,” Lysacek said. “Now I’ve taken a step away, gotten perspective, and realized it’s just sport. There are going to be good days and bad days. It makes it a lot easier if you come to terms with the possibility before you enter.”