(Harry How / Getty Images)

Figure skater Evan Lysacek, whose artistry and near-flawless performance landed him atop the podium at the 2010 Vancouver Games, announced Tuesday that a lingering hip injury will prevent from defending his gold medal at the upcoming Sochi Olympics.

The development wasn’t unexpected, given that Lysacek, 28, hadn’t competed since his triumph nearly four years ago. In order to qualify for consideration for the 2014 Olympics, he would have had to post a minimum qualifying score in an international meet leading up to the upcoming U.S. Figure Skating Championships, to be held in January, at which the country’s Sochi-bound team will be selected.

But with one injury following another in recent months, Lysacek was fast running out of competitions in which he could earn that qualifying score, with only the Dec. 18 Ukraine Open remaining. And he appeared on NBC’s Today program Tuesday morning to disclose that it simply wasn’t possible. Despite two months of aggressive treatment on his injured hip, Lysacek said he was informed by doctors that he risked permanent injury if he persisted.

The first U.S. man to win Olympic figure skating gold in 24 years, Lysacek stopped short of announcing his retirement, reiterating instead his desire to return to competition in the future.

“Words cannot describe how disappointed I am to not be able to compete in Sochi,” Lysacek said in a statement released by U.S. Figure Skating. “The proudest moments of my life have been representing the United States in the last two Winter Olympics. I have suffered numerous injuries over the course of my skating career, and they are some of the hardest things an athlete has to overcome. While none of my past injuries have sidelined me quite like this one, I remain determined to regain my health and skate again.”

Despite his credentials as a two-time U.S. champion (2007-08), 2009 world champion and the most decorated U.S. male skater of the past decade, Lysacek faces significant hurdles in that attempt. Chief among them: Catching up with the sport’s rapidly escalating technical rigor, particularly given his age.

Lysacek achieved his Olympic gold without landing a quadruple jump, compensating for the absence of the high-scoring feat by delivering beautifully choreographed programs that were virtually glitch-free. His performances showcased his interpretive gifts while making a personal statement about the primacy of artistry over acrobatics.

Not all of his rivals — nor all judges — share that philosophy. And looking to Sochi, it was an open-question, at best, whether Lysacek could have been a viable medal-contender without a quad — or event multiple quads.

Three-time U.S. Champion Johnny Weir, who retired from the sport in October and will serve as an NBC commentator in Sochi, was among the athletes saluting Lysacek via Twitter, writing: “Very proud of a great champion, @EvanLysacek, and his graceful bow-out of the Sochi Olympics this morning on @TODAYshow.”

Based on past performance, the United States earned the right to send three female singles skaters and two men to Sochi. With Lysaceck officially out, the field for those two spots is wide open.

Reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron boasts the most technically difficult programs, chocked with quadruple jumps, but his go-for-broke style results in frequent falls.

Others in the mix: Jeremy Abbott, a three-time U.S. champion; Ross Miner, a three-time medalist; Richard Dornbush; and Adam Rippon, who impressed at Skate America in October. Also, 18-year-old Jason Brown of Chicago, is an intriguing possibility. He has yet to master the quad but is a fast rising talent with a knack for energizing audiences and impressing judges with his panache and palpable love of performance.

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