Weiss figures getting sleepier helps him skate with the best

American says hypnosis aids focus, performance

Figure Skating

March 25, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - If American Michael Weiss slips into a dreamlike state during his short or long programs this week in the World Figure Skating Championships, it won't be by accident.

Weiss said yesterday, after qualifying for the event at MCI Center, that he uses hypnosis to help him fine-tune his concentration as he prepares to take on the finest skaters in the world.

"Hypnosis creates a deep concentration," said Weiss, who comes in as the U.S. champion, but not as the favorite. "When I'm in one of these sessions, it's almost like that state just before you fall asleep.

"In last night's session, we worked on our goal for the whole week: It's to skate clean through the entire competition. You're always tense in competition, and skating in front of the home crowd that increases. But, to me, that intensity is just focus, and if you can channel that in the right direction, it works well for you."

Weiss was not perfect yesterday, but the Washington native was good enough to finish first in his half of the qualifying round, which counts for 20 percent of the overall score.

Tonight's men's short program will count for 30 percent, and Thursday's free skate will count 50 percent.

Weiss' performance puts him into the short program in a virtual tie with men's favorite Evgeni Plushenko, who does not use hypnosis and evidently doesn't need it.

Plushenko, who said his left knee is sore, skated an outstanding program filled with three-jump combinations of quad toe-triple toe-triple loop to win in his half of qualifying. He earned scores ranging from 5.8 to 5.9 in technical merit and from 5.9 to 6.0 in presentation. The 6.0 was the only one of the day.

American Timothy Goebel, also a favorite to medal here, finished second to Plushenko in their half of qualifying, while the talented Takeshi Honda of Japan was second to Weiss in the first session of the week-long championships.

Last night, after the official opening ceremonies at MCI Center, Russia's Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin were the best pairs skaters in the short program.

The women's competition, which will be without European champion Irina Slutskaya, who withdrew, features Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes and begins with qualifying tomorrow.

Though Plushenko and Goebel, who finished second at this year's nationals, are believed to be the top two favorites, Weiss said he has allowed himself to think about winning the gold.

"Three clean programs means a gold medal," Weiss said. "For me, three clean programs will be a gold-medal performance whether the judges think so or not."

The reason for his strong mental outlook has much to do with his hypnosis training. But hypnosis isn't for everyone. Goebel and Plushenko have indicated it isn't for them.

"Anyone who needs a therapist to compete shouldn't be in skating," Goebel said after a practice Friday.

And, yesterday, Plushenko, who seems to thrive on a joie de vivre and beautiful skating, said he needs only his coach. His coach, Alexei Mishin, laughed and said: "Anyone who needs a psychotherapist is sick."

Hypnosis is not widely accepted in sports, but Weiss' hypnotherapist, Topher Morrison, said it is becoming more so as "more people win gold medals and say they're using therapists."

Part of the resistance to hypnosis, said Morrison, is it has been made to seem scary by stage shows.

"People are afraid they're going to be made to quack or bark like dogs," he said. "There is a stigma. But that aside, people are beginning to realize it is a powerful tool."

Over the past two years, Weiss has gone from working with Morrison from every once in a while, to monthly, to twice daily, every day over the past three weeks.

Sunday night, Weiss spent 45 minutes in hypnosis preparing for yesterday's qualifying session in which he turned in a better than adequate performance, pushing the technical envelope - but not too far - with quad toe and triple toe loop combinations.

"In any event, you have both the mental and the physical, and you have to do whatever you can in preparation to do your best with both elements," Morrison said. "I think an athlete who works the physical and not the mental isn't tapping into his full potential."

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