By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010; D05
It's hard to imagine a less gracious silver medalist than Evgeni Plushenko. The flashy Russian was clearly surprised and disappointed after losing the gold medal Thursday night to staid Evan Lysacek. But my dear fellow, manners make the man.
Plushenko has a different view of what makes a man. Apparently, performing a quadruple jump is the ultimate yardstick. He said earlier this week, in what was a blatant insult to virtually all of his competitors, that without the quad, men's skating is actually "women's skating."
The remark was particularly addressed to Lysacek, who was .55 of a point behind Plushenko after the short program and within striking distance of the gold. Lysacek had weighed the risk and the reward of the quad and very deliberately decided not to bring it over the border into Canada. The new scoring system, put in place after the Salt Lake City judging scandal of 2002, does not reward a quad sufficiently to offset the deduction given if a skater doesn't land it well -- and a lot of skaters can't land it well, not every time, and not perfectly.
And perfection was Lysacek's mission here. He wanted every single move of his 4-minute 40-second program to be perfect. So he hunkered down, worked hard and no matter how much Plushenko baited him, he kept his mouth shut. Thursday night, the gold medal safely hanging around his neck, he finally let out some of his frustration.
"It's taken more hours and more work than any quadruple jump ever could," he said of his long program. "If it was about doing one jump, they would give you 10 seconds and no music. But it's about every step from the time you take the ice until the time you finish. That's what my focus was tonight, getting every point I could out of that program."
Lysacek said Friday that Plushenko had been a hero of his and that while the Russian shook his hand and congratulated him after the decision, "I was a little disappointed that my role model would take a hit at me in what is probably one of the most special moments of my life. . . . I'm sure he said stuff in the heat of the moment that I'm sure he doesn't mean. I'll try not to take it out of context and give him the benefit of the doubt."
This from a man who came under attack Friday from what seemed like the whole of Russia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Plushenko's finish "was worth a gold medal" and Plushenko's wife called upon the Russian government to "defend our sportsmen and defend their honor." Lysacek was asked Friday about whether he might come back for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
"I don't think they would love to see me there, to be quite honest," he said, laughing. "But if I could somehow get a visa into that country, maybe."
The Russians have no one to blame but themselves for their current unhappiness. The new judging regulations were adopted in direct response to cheating by -- wait for it -- the Russians. Don't blame Lysacek for playing the scoring system like it's a hot new Wii game.
I might also point out that Mr. Quad landed his, but it wasn't perfect. In fact, several of Plushenko's jumps were less than stellar, his program more flirty and less fluid than Lysacek's. Simply put, he wasn't as good as Lysacek on Thursday night. It's a result that can and will be argued until the next controversy arises, which in figure skating could be as early as this weekend.
But let's leave aside the Great Quad Kerfluffle of 2010 for a moment and focus on Plushenko's post-loss behavior. First, when Plushenko skated out for the medal ceremony, he shook the hand of bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, then hopped onto the podium -- in the gold medal winner's position. He then walked down to the silver level. The crowd let out a collective "oooooooo," and the camera focused in on Plushenko's face. He was not abashed. He was sending a message.
He saved his most boorish behavior for the post-event news conference. The three medalists sat together on a dais. Lysacek spoke first, quite naturally, since he was the actual winner of the event -- except in Plushenko's mind, which must just be filled with hot air and mirrors, the better to reflect his thoughts of himself.
Asked whether he thought he had won after his performance, he said, "I was positive that I won." Okay, fair enough. But then he actually said this:
"But I suppose Evan needs the medal more than I do. Maybe it's because I already have one. I have to share with you -- two silver and one Olympic gold -- that's not too bad."
Yes, Evgeni, you are the swellest guy at the sock hop. We tan in your reflected glory. Dude, get a grip.
He answered a few more questions, including the use of the "I'm just a simple athlete," which is always, always code for "I'm not just a simple athlete." Then, stunningly, he says, "Can I leave?" and does. Members of the Russian media, wearing their Russian team jackets, applaud and depart as well -- leaving Lysacek and Takahashi sitting there, trying to answer questions.
Listen, despite his astonishing hubris, Plushenko is right to want to push his sport forward in the way that, say, Shaun White has done in snowboarding. Whether the quad is an important step forward is a matter of debate. But if the Russians feel strongly about it, they should work to change the scoring system. They certainly have the pull within the international federation to pull it off.
However, in the meantime, they should learn to work the system. Perhaps Lysacek can show them how.