Lysacek is first American man to win figure skating gold since 1988

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010; D01

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Russian Evgeni Plushenko raised his arms and pointed both index fingers triumphantly when his music stopped Thursday night, announcing to the crowd at the Pacific Coliseum that he was number one. Plushenko, however, ran into a problem. The judging panel disagreed.

Though Plushenko took the ice last among the top skaters in the Olympic men's free program and landed the quadruple jump he had claimed was necessary for victory in an Olympic Games, his powerful program could not top the cleaner, more dynamic but quad-less effort put forth by American Evan Lysacek earlier in the evening.

The result left Plushenko clearly bruised, and made history for both nations: Lysacek, 24, screamed with joy and hugged his coach when he learned became the first American man since Brian Boitano in 1988 to win the Olympic men's figure skating gold.

"This is proof that dreams truly come true," Lysacek said. "This gold medal was not planned . . . [but] I felt really confident and really over my feet. I knew that was maybe my best skate ever."

Plushenko smiled and blew a kiss at the cameras when he learned his nation's streak of Olympic gold medals was over at four, but he later said through an interpreter he had been certain he had won when he finished. He added: "I suppose Evan needs a medal more than I do."

Plushenko, 27, who came out of a 3 1/2 year retirement to compete here, ended up just 1.31 points behind Lysacek, who outscored him both in the night's long program (167.37 to 165.51) and overall (257.67 to 256.36). Despite a fifth-place in the long program, Daisuke Takahashi won the bronze -- the first Olympic medal in the event for Japan -- with totals of (156.98 and 247.23).

"I was positive that I won," said Plushenko, who won the gold in 2006 and silver in 2002. "Maybe [I lost] because I already have one. But I have to share with you, two silvers and one Olympic gold, that's not bad."

American Johnny Weir claimed sixth (238.87) points and Jeremy Abbott, the U.S. champion, got ninth (218.96)

When summoned to receive his silver medal, Plushenko climbed to the top step first before stepping down to his designated spot, a maneuver that elicited murmuring from the crowd. Lysacek, who seemed beside himself with joy, did not seem to mind -- and he even laughed during the press conference as Plushenko went on at length without a single gracious word.

"It's always difficult to skate last," Plushenko said.

Asked about the scoring, he said: "I'm a simple athlete, a simple figure skater. I just do my job. However, my basic position and attitude is that movement must go forward and never go back. . . . As I said, I knew I would accept any result . . . however, after this defeat, I'm not going to put my hand down and stop, and I think people need to do lots of quads."

Lysacek countered that he had spent more time working on his spins and transitions than he had ever put toward a quad jump, and that he considered all of those elements important.

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.

Lambiel ended up fourth and Chan, fifth.

Takahashi, 23, began the night with a huge and hard fall on his opening jump, a quadruple toe loop, but the result did not make him second-guess his decision to put the quad into his free skate after earning great scores for a quad-less short program.

"For me, I felt the ideal performance would have to include a quad on my part," Takahashi said through an interpreter. "Though I attempted the quad and failed, I do not regret that at all. It is in fact a challenge to me and a good experience."

Perhaps after watching Takahashi's fall, Weir elected to skip his planned quadruple toe jump, which he had been hitting all week in practice, and substituted a triple flip. He hit eight triple jumps and but had other problems. He left out one of his three required spins, a costly mistake, and ended up with 156.77 in the free skate -- numbers that drew boos from the crowd.

"I was crying before I even when out on the ice for warm-up," Weir said. "I was no nervous . . . just because I had so much emotion."

Lambiel, 24, the 2006 silver medal winner, put a hand down on one quadruple jump attempt and wobbled mightily on another. He struggled to hang on to a number of jumps and earned 162.06 points and 246.72 overall.

Canadian Patrick Chan, 19, the reigning world silver medal winner, ended an Olympics on home ice without the medal he wanted so much. Chan fell attempting a triple Axel and fell out of a triple Lutz. He still earned high marks for his spins and transitions, scoring 160.30 for the free skate and 241.42 overall.

Oda, 22, stopped in the middle of his program to address a skate-lace malfunction, pulling up his pant leg to illuminate the issue for the judging panel. Fourth after the short program, Oda earned 153.69 points for a total of 238.54 and found himself in seventh place.

In the end, every skater besides Plushenko and Lysacek had made a major mistake of some sort.

And, finally, Lysacek performed better -- right through the post-event press conference.

"To me, I felt like the way I skated was a winning performance regardless of what anyone else did," Lysacek said. "If I had come in second, I would still have felt like it was a winning performance. This was a personal victory for me."

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