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Skating event could leave Staples Center

Cinquanta, international union president, says new TV contract is needed for 2009.

March 20, 2007|Philip Hersh | Special to The Times

TOKYO — International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta indicated the future of the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships scheduled for Los Angeles could be in jeopardy unless a new TV contract for ISU events in the United States is in place.

Cinquanta addressed the issue without taking questions during a morning news conference today.

Twice using the word "provisional" when referring to assigning the 2009 worlds to Los Angeles, Cinquanta said, "We are very concerned about whether there will be adequate TV coverage in the United States.

"Without TV coverage, we cannot assure our contractual obligations."

The four-year ESPN contract with the ISU expires after the 2008 season. ESPN, which paid $5 million a year for the rights (less than one-fourth of the previous contract with ABC), is considered unlikely to renew.

The host national federation for a world championships is required to provide the signal used by broadcasters worldwide. That signal usually comes from the network that owns TV rights in the host country.

David Raith, chief executive of the U.S. Figure Skating Assn., said he was surprised by Cinquanta's impromptu remarks. Raith said the USFSA has guaranteed the host broadcast signal, which could cost the USFSA some $500,000 if there is no rights-holder to provide it.

"I am not concerned," Raith said to the question of whether Staples Center could lose the event.

Cinquanta's statements could have been a ploy to push negotiations for a new TV contract in the United States and Canada.

"I am furious because we are confronted with a situation where we don't know about the future of the sport in North America," Cinquanta said.

The USFSA paid to have an independent company, Red Brick Entertainment, provide the global feed from February's Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., which were televised on ESPN in the United States.

*

Evan Lysacek stood on the rink, ready for the final elements of this day's work.

His training session was officially over, and other figure skaters were filling the ice. Lysacek, though, trains by his own clock, the one that tells him extra practice time on the Toyota Sports Center rink in El Segundo allowed him to win January's U.S. championships in Spokane, Wash., by an overwhelming margin.

"I know, honestly, I worked harder than anyone there," Lysacek said.

Lysacek's relentlessness continued a month later, as he prepared for the world championships that begin today in Tokyo.

Lysacek already had been on the ice for about three hours, working on his triple axel jump, doing three full run-throughs of his short program and one of his long program, cleanly landing a quadruple jump in each run-through. The quads were so matter-of-fact it was hard to believe Lysacek, 21, had not landed one in competition until his free skate at nationals.

Now other skaters were darting in and out of his eventual path, with no apparent effect on his concentration. He pushed off, took a stride, then two more strides and turned into a triple flip jump, executed perfectly from the half-speed approach. Then he did it twice more. "Evan is one of the most driven people I have ever met," said his girlfriend, Tanith Belbin, the 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist. "It is inspiring to watch him try to reach his goals."

Winning the national title represented the latest step in a steady climb for Lysacek at the senior level: 12th the first two years, then seventh, fifth, third, second and, finally, first, ending Johnny Weir's three-year reign as champion.

"It gave me the satisfaction of finally reaching what was my goal for the past four years," Lysacek said. "I was really disappointed not winning in the Olympic year. I came back with a vengeance."

That has been apparent in his results. Lysacek has won three events this season -- national and Four Continents championships and one Grand Prix event, the Cup of China. His only other victory at the senior level had been at the 2005 Four Continents event.

But for a disaster that left him in the 10th place after the short program, Lysacek could have won a medal at the 2006 Olympics. He finished fourth overall, losing the bronze by the margin of either of the two jumps he botched during the short program. Despite a case of flu so bad he needed intravenous fluids, Lysacek rallied with a personal best and the third-highest score in the free skate.

That pattern continued at the 2006 worlds. Lysacek tumbled to seventh after the short program, then wound up with the world bronze medal for the second straight year.

An error-free short program at the 2007 nationals was "a weight lifted off my shoulders," Lysacek said.

It gave him a small lead over Weir, but Lysacek turned that competition into a runaway by landing the quad and eight triples in the free skate.

The men who finished ahead of Lysacek at last year's worlds, Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland and Brian Joubert of France, have routinely landed quads in the short program and the free skate.

Having the quad gives Lysacek a much better chance.

"I want to go in and try everything I can, to know I've worked every limit of my capability," he said.

*

Philip Hersh covers the Olympics for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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