Lysacek topples king of the quad

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency


American Evan Lysacek (USA) celebrates after his gold-medal winning men's free program at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI AGENCY)

VANCOUVER — American Evan Lysacek doesn’t have a quad jump. But he does have the Olympic gold medal.

The tanned American and reigning world champ, sporting a Vera Wang-designed outfit, outlasted the comeback bid of Russian veteran and quad king Evgeni Plushenko of Russia Thursday night at the Pacific Coliseum.

Lysacek, the Chicago native, scored 167.37 points in his free skate and 257.67 points overall. He’s the first American gold medallist in the discipline since Brian Boitano did it in Calgary in 1988.

“It hasn’t sunk in at all one bit,” Lysacek said. “All I can say (about the great quad debate) is I tried to have the complete package. Every part of the four-minute, 40-second skate, I wanted to make it count.

“That’s my best free program this season. To do your best when it counts most, I’ve been waiting for a clean free skate all season.”

Plushenko, trying to become the first repeat Olympic men’s figure skating champ since Dick Button in Oslo in 1952, totalled only 256.36 — including 165.51 for the long program — despite landing the only quad he tried.

Canadian Patrick Chan, who finished fifth, felt like he just finished scaling a personal Mt. Everest.

He’d be standing on the Olympic podium if he only nailed a couple more jumps during the climb.

He fell on a triple Lutz — a jump he says he never worries about, “and that affected the Axel, I think, too,” he said. “I’m a little bit disappointed. You see Canadians with gold medals and I wanted one, too.

“But not many people win a medal in their first Olympics.”

Performing to his stirring Phantom of the Opera program designed by coach Lori Nichol, the 19-year-old from Toronto scored a season-best 160.30 points for a total of 241.42 points, but fell victim to his own credo — don’t make mistakes on this big stage.

The Canadian skaters have struggled with their triple jumps here.

“It was overwhelming,” Chan said. “I was too young to go to Torino. I wish I had an Olympics under my belt before this one.

“You can’t simulate it (the experience). Everyone reacts differently. I learned a lot. Usually, after I skate, I’m relieved. But I’d like to go out there and do the short and long program again. It’s made me hungry.

“You look at Sochi (in 2014) but that’s a long time away.”

The men have been surrounded by the great quad debate this week. Chan has never been — and likely never will be — about the jumps.

“I think I scored well on my footwork and the spins and that’s what I love to do,” he said. “I don’t love the jumping part — the quad. I never have. That’s not me. If I go out there and do those things well, I’m happy.

“To hear that crowd, it goes right through you into your fingertips. I’ll always love Vancouver for that. That’s why guys like Evgeni come back. For that feeling.”

And this kind of season could be what Chan needed.

To go through a first Olympics.

To carry the expectations of a country on his shoulders.

To live outside the Olympic Village away from the other athletes and decide, in the end, if that’s what suits him the best.

To struggle Tuesday in his short program and wake up facing the grim reality of coming back from nearly 10 points down in the free skate.

To suffer through a season of injury and coaching upheaval and find out if he comes out mentally and emotionally stronger than before.

“Tiger (Woods) is great at that,” said Chan, who will go to worlds this year. “I learned it’s one thing to work on — my mind. I have to attack all the time. Get that feeling back.”

Maybe, when Chan looks back on his career, Vancouver will be a benchmark in surviving those trials and tribulations before a coronation as the new skating king.

“I’m still young,” he said. “A lot of these guys have at least four more years experience than I do.”

And at some point in their careers, the champion skaters arrive at the spot where Chan is now.

Plushenko retired after his gold medal in Turin.

He was only 23 but in pain from years of training and pushing the limits of jumping on skates.

He went through a divorce and has since re-married.

After three years out of competition, he looked at the men’s field and thought, “This can be done again.”

If he didn’t believe that, he would never have returned. Never suffered more injury, never risked his reputation.

Never faced up to the slings and arrows of part of the skating world that said he was all about jumping and very little about anything else.

Never had a chance to make some more history as the first male figure skater to repeat as Olympic champion since American Dick Button did it in Oslo 58 years ago.

Never had a chance to give Russia, which already had lost its streak of 12 straight pairs titles to the Chinese, a fifth straight Olympic gold in the men’s discipline, salvaging what has been a rough start to the Winter Games for the next host.

Plushenko never said it would be easy. He only said if he was going down, it would be with a quad in his program.

He knows the history. Lysacek, who was wearing Vera Wang while the dress designer watched him, is the reigning world champ.

No American male skater that entered the Olympics as world champ has lost.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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