ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir are taking this rivalry thing pretty seriously.
The two finished with the same final score Sunday, and it took a tiebreaker to give Lysacek his second straight title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. He won the free skate, 162.72 to 161.37.
"That's awesome, actually, to have not one person but two people (that close) in the same event," Lysacek said. "You put any top skater in world in that competition today, and they would have had tough time beating either one of us."
That might be a stretch. This wasn't a signature performance by either of the United States' top men. Both two-footed their quadruple jumps, Weir landed another jump on two feet and the landings on both of Lysacek's triple axels were not what anyone would consider secure.
Neither had his usual spark. Both seemed burdened by the expectations.
"My reaction this year is so much different than last year," Lysacek acknowledged. "Last year, I was so excited. I'd climbed to the top of the mountain I'd been working toward for so long. This year I feel more relief."
Still, just the fact Lysacek and Weir were that close made for a compelling competition. Stephen Carriere, last year's junior world champion, was third.
"I was as close as possible to getting (the title) back again. I'm proud of that," Weir said.
Under the new judging system, there are hundreds of ways for skaters to earn — and lose — points. Jumps, spins, footwork, choreography, costumes. Even something as slight as an edge can cost a skater big. So it shouldn't be that hard to separate skaters, even two who are so equally good.
But Weir and Lysacek have one of the best back-and-forths going, and if anyone was going to wind up in a tie, it's them. They've combined to win the last five U.S. titles — Weir won it from 2004-06 — and can usually be found near each other in the international results.
At Cup of China, for example, Weir won while Lysacek finished second. At last month's Grand Prix final, Lysacek won the bronze medal while Weir was fourth.
And after finishing the short program separated by just 1.35 points, the title was still very much up for grabs Sunday.
Skating to "Tosca," Lysacek didn't have his usual sharpness or precision, and until his last two sections of footwork, his free skate lacked his usual emotion. He landed his quadruple toe loop jump on two feet, and needed to do a turn before the triple toe that's supposed to be a combination. He wasn't very secure on the landings of either of his triple axels, too, though he held on to both of them.
"I wasn't terribly happy with the quad tonight," coach Frank Carroll said. "It is a difficult thing to do under pressure. But if you don't start doing it now, what are you going to do the last year (before the Olympics)?"
Lysacek did end his program strong. Four of his elements — two jump combinations and a triple lutz and double axel — came after the halfway mark, which earn bonus points. His straight-line footwork is filled with intricate steps and kicks and fast hops and turns, and it always gets a nice reaction from the crowd. Fans were cheering and clapping before his music even finished, and Lysacek pumped his fist in satisfaction.
"I think I performed with every ounce of energy I had inside of me, so that I'm proud of," Lysacek said. "We're trying such difficult stuff and, for me, I've worked so hard this year to have difficult entrances and exits into jumps that they're rarely perfect perfect.
"That's the name of the game now, fighting for every single point. It's actually a good thing the sport is about, and it's not just recital where you show up and do it. You go out and fight."
But because he hadn't been perfect, he'd left room for Weir.
The two were evenly matched in jumps — both two-footed their quads and did seven triples. But Weir also landed his triple flip on two feet, and had simpler entrances to his jumps.
Weir also didn't skate with his usual intensity. When he's on, he is one of the most majestic skaters in the world, with a natural gift for wringing every ounce of emotion out of a program.
But he seemed to be more about business in both his short and long programs, skating as if he was crossing one thing after another off a mental checklist. He still had his usual elegance, but not his fire.
His shoulders shook with sobs when he finished, and he briefly dropped to one knee. A few minutes later, he'd dropped to second. Still, it was a far better showing than last year, when he dropped to third after a dismal free skate. He shook up his entire life in the aftermath, switching to Galina Zmievskaya, who coached Olympic gold medalists Viktor Petrenko and Oksana Baiul, and moved to New Jersey.
"I'm very happy with my performance and happy that I could show the work that I've put in," he said. "The scoring, first, second place — it really doesn't matter. I'm just happy with the way I skated."