Until this month, Matt Savoie’s skating career had been defined by “almosts”. Almost good enough to make the three-person Olympic team in 2002. He was first alternate. Almost good enough to make the podium at nationals consistently. He was fourth four times, third twice. Almost good enough to make a splash internationally, with a fifth in last year’s Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and bronze in the 2001 Grand Prix Final. Almost good enough to be mentioned with Timothy Goebel, Michael Weiss, Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek as the royal class of U.S. men’s skating. Then, two weeks ago at the U.S. Championships in St. Louis, Savoie found the key to the castle. Fourth after the short program, Savoie, overlooked as an Olympic possibility, made the team with likely the best free skate of his life to finish third. Savoie still has work to do before the Games. He finished third Friday night at the Four Continents, dropping one place after a poor free skate where he reduced the difficulty of at least five jumps. Japan’s Nobunari Oda won the title with a score of 201.69, followed by Canadian Christopher Mabee’s 198.69 and Savoie’s 190.15. For the Olympics, Savoie, second going into the final after Wednesday’s short program, will have to look back to nationals for motivation. Colorado Springs choreographer Tom Dickson is among those credited with helping Savoie go from also-ran to Olympian. “Matt had artistic inside,” said Savoie’s coach, Linda Branan. “He’d had dance, he’d had ballet, he’d had gymnastics. Through the years, a little bit had been brought out. It’s all out now.” Savoie, from Peoria, Ill., has been helped by the new judging system, which puts more emphasis on spins and artistry. He hired dance coach Kathy Johnson from the Juilliard School of Dance. This is also the first year Savoie, who has a master’s degree in urban planning, has concentrated fully on skating. He met Dickson in 1997, after Savoie won junior nationals and moved to senior-level competition. Branan knew there would be more technical demands. Savoie and Branan, coach for his entire 16-year career, are based in Peoria but spend about three months a year in Colorado Springs. They work on music and elements for the upcoming season’s free and short programs. While the books were put aside, the introverted Savoie rarely had been able to take his inner performer off the shelf. Dickson said they talked about opening up to the audience and aggressively pursuing a goal. “As a competition nears, he withdraws more, tends to dwell more on reasons he shouldn’t go to the Olympics,” Dickson said, “This or that or (that) someone else should go.” Said Savoie: “I’ve always considered myself a fatalistic person.” At nationals, Dickson said he didn’t let Savoie retreat to his hotel room as usual. All week, he made him go out to lunch. Moments before he took the ice for his transformative free skate, Dickson pulled him into the corridor and asked what he was going to do. “Be a different person,” Savoie said. Said Dickson: “I was happy he said that. He didn’t say something like, ‘Oh, I’m going to try my best.’” For years, Dickson had tried to get Savoie to understand he could be a performer without losing himself. At nationals, it finally clicked. “I have been able to break through that barrier, but at the same time it’s still been just a different side of myself I don’t necessarily express in my daily life,” Savoie said. “It’s scary but at the same time it makes me comfortable to know that I’m not necessarily stretching myself so far as I’m just peeling away layers of my own personality . . . I’ve got to work to bring it out.” TV commentator Peter Carruthers, 1984 Olympic silver pairs medalist with sister Kitty, noticed. Few consider Savoie an Olympic medal contender. But who knows with the new Savoie? “He’s a very smart guy, so now he has 100 percent of his brain into skating,” Carruthers said. “That could make the difference. We’ll see if it has.” SCHEDULE Today — Ladies’ free skate (finals), 11:30 a.m.; exhibition of champions, 6:30 p.m. Tickets: Call TicketsWest at 719-576-2626 or 866-464-2626; visit World Arena box office; or see www. worldarena.com
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.