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Lysacek is first American man to win figure skating gold since 1988
In any case, he had come by the victory honestly. Plushenko showed uncharacteristic wobbles, though he did not make a single major mistake. Lysacek, who skated first among the top skaters, had laid down a program that was so impeccable even Plushenko's high-scoring quadruple toe, triple toe combination jump could not beat it.
Plushenko had been trying to become the first back-to-back gold medal winner in more than 50 years. Lysacek, meantime, was trying to restore the luster to the U.S. men's program, which saw back-to-back golds in 1984 and 1988 but had only seen one Olympic medal at the last four Winter Games.
American Dick Button won the gold medal at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the '52 Games in Oslo. The last Americans to win medals were Tim Goebel (bronze) in 2002 and Paul Wylie (silver) in 1994.
When his name was announced during the six-minute warm-up, Plushenko paused, stared up at the crowd and pointed to his puffed-out chest with both hands wagging. He hit the quad-triple combination at the start of his free skate, but almost fell out of his first triple Axel.
He struggled to hang on to a couple of seven triple jumps and did not receive the highest level on one of his spins, but tried to overcome the problems with his trademark style and showmanship, playing with the crowd.
His quad-triple received 14.60 points, well above the 11.40 Lysacek got for his top-scoring jump, a triple Lutz, triple toe combination, but Lysacek's overall perfection canceled out that bonus.
Lysacek landed everything he tried, and each of eight triple jumps was crisp and clean except for one triple Axel for which he fought hard. Wearing all black with his hair slicked back, Lysacek executed a dramatic, powerful program with speed and great spins that brought the crowd to its feet and left him pumping his fists triumphantly when it ended.
"I tried not to get too excited after each jump," he said. "I wanted to pump my fist every time" I landed.
When Lysacek saw his marks, he grinned and slung his arm around his coach, Frank Carroll. Carroll had said earlier in the day that Lysacek was "apprehensive" because "there's a lot riding on his skate tonight," but the nerves never showed.
After, Lysacek said that Plushenko "skated great and I've admired him for years."
After winning the gold at the 2006 Winter Games, bad knees drove Plushenko out of the sport. But concern about the lack of Russian male stars brought him back for what would be his third straight Olympic medal.
After Tuesday's short program, Plushenko, Lysacek and Takahashi had been separated by a mere 0.60 of a point. Plushenko was first with 90.85; Lysacek had 90.30; and Takahashi had 90.25. Japan's Nobunari Oda was fourth with 84.85; Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel had 84.63; and Weir, 82.10.