As the skaters twirl É while Michelle Kwan battles Sasha Cohen for the ladies crown, here are other subplots developing in the 2005 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, set for Sunday through Jan. 16 at the Rose Garden and Memorial Coliseum.

Wonderful Weiss: Michael Weiss, the U.S. men's champ in 1999, 2000 and 2003, finished second to 20-year-old Johnny Weir last year, but he has struggled in recent competitions.

'My jumps weren't where they had to be,' Weiss said recently, as he prepared for the Portland event. 'In terms of training and practice, I'm feeling really good. I'm landing my quad toes on one foot, and that's really where I want to be going into nationals.'

Because the old system of scoring, based on a 6.0 criteria, will be used in Portland, Weiss, 28 and training in Laurel, Md., says he doesn't worry about scoring affecting his artistry. In Grand Prix events, he has been performing in free skates to Metallica's 'Unforgiven' and Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Bonzo's Montreux.' So, he must be cool. For the short programs, it's been the movie soundtrack from 'Henry V.'

On Phoenix ice: Defending pairs champions Rena Inoue, 28, and John Baldwin, 31, recently moved to Phoenix to train under famed coach Jill Watson. They had been training in Los Angeles. Said Watson: 'Rena and John had been sharing NHL-size ice with five other pair teams and commuting in Los Angeles traffic five days a week in order to accommodate training schedules.' What's with skaters training in warm locales?

Expected entries: About 250 novices, juniors and seniors competing in ladies, men's, pairs and dance. Hopefully none fall on their face, ˆ la Russian Tatiana Totmianina Oct. 23 in Pittsburgh when partner Maxim Marinin lost his footing Ñ one of the ugliest sports images ever.

Online action: Fans will be able to watch scores for all U.S. senior and junior championship events, results automatically refreshing every four minutes, on You can still get a ticket, too.

Ñ Jason Vondersmith

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