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American Evan Lysacek defends his victory over Russian Evgeni Plushenko

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010; D05

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- U.S. figure skater Evan Lysacek just wanted to enjoy the Olympic gold medal he never expected -- but always wanted -- hours after his upset victory over Russian Evgeni Plushenko in the Olympic men's figure skating competition Thursday.

Instead, Lysacek spent Friday enduring attacks on the legitimacy of his title from Russians and others upset both with his tactical approach and the judges' decision to give him a narrow victory over the 2006 gold medal winner.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent Plushenko, who claimed the silver medal, a telegram telling him his "silver was as good as gold" and he "performed the most accomplished program on the Vancouver ice." Russian commentators decried the result, and two-time Olympic silver medal winner Elvis Stojko said in a column for Yahoo that Lysacek's skate wasn't "Olympic champion material" and "the judges made a mockery" of the event by rewarding Lysacek.

The debate centered solely around the fact Plushenko executed a quadruple jump and Lysacek did not. Bronze medal winner Daisuke Takahashi tried one, but fell attempting it and fell out of contention for the gold.

Lysacek contends that his nearly perfect program featuring eight triple jumps and complex spins, footwork and transitions topped Plushenko's more-wobbly effort with the quad and seven triples.

Plushenko fueled the controversy by wagging his index fingers in the air when he finished Thursday, then complaining about the judges' decision to put him 1.31 points behind Lysacek.

"You can't be considered a true men's champion without a quad," Plushenko told Russian state television, according to Reuters.

"For someone to stand on top of the podium with the gold medal around his neck by just doing triple jumps, to me it's not progress; it's a regress because we've done triples 10 or even 20 years ago," Plushenko said, according to Reuters. "Just doing nice transitions and being artistic is not enough because figure skating is a sport, not a show."

Lysacek and Canada's Patrick Chan, who finished fifth, have said the point-oriented judging system installed before the 2006 Winter Games encourages athletes to have well-rounded programs. And while the new system heavily rewards a successful execution of a quad, those who try it and fail face a substantial penalty.

Just a few skaters even attempted the jump Thursday, and only Plushenko and Japan's Takahiko Kozuka, who was eighth, actually landed it cleanly.

"Nobody likes to lose," Lysacek said. "Plushenko is a great guy, a great skater. I've admired him for years. I thought he did an outstanding job . . . For him to discredit the field, though, that's not right. It's probably the strongest men's field there's ever been, and I was honored to be" in the field.

Added Lysacek: "I guess I was a little disappointed that someone who is my role model would take a hit at me in what is probably one of the most special moments of my life."

Despite the brouhaha, Lysacek could take comfort in the gold medal that hung around his neck. Unlike Plushenko, who came out of a 3 1/2 -year retirement to chase a second Olympic gold, Lysacek said he had not banked on such a historic performance. With the victory, Lysacek became the first American to win gold in the event since Brian Boitano did it in 1988. He also ended Russia's Olympic gold medal streak in the event at four.

Nervousness afflicted him all day Thursday, he said, so he sought comfort in the words of his coach, Frank Carroll, who told him he should worry only about executing every single element of his program perfectly -- and nothing else.

Lysacek won last year's world title, but he fell attempting a quad during the U.S. championships in mid-January, finishing second to Jeremy Abbott. He had been bothered by a nagging foot injury that caused him, finally, to take the quad out of his program, he said.

He skated first among the top skaters Thursday, so he had to wait about 30 minutes to learn whether his performance, which he called a personal best, would stand up.

Asked what he would like to do now that he has won a gold medal -- meet the president? go to Disney World? -- Lysacek offered an uncustomary response.

"This last year, I've been really selfish preparing for this Olympics," he said. "I'd like to work with [charities] a lot more, to spend some time, some real time. I guess that's one goal."

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