U.S. figure skater Evan Lysacek wins gold medal

OLYMPICS

Calling it 'the greatest night of my life,' the 24-year-old becomes the first U.S. male to win the Olympic skating gold medal since Brian Boitano in 1988.

February 19, 2010|By Philip Hersh | Tribune Newspapers

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Evan Lysacek's coach, Frank Carroll, had one major hope for his skater going into Thursday's Olympic free skate final.

"I want him to grab this opportunity and make it something special," Carroll said, "because so few skaters have this chance."

Lysacek did all that and more at the Pacific Coliseum.

Shaking off the suffocating pressure of the moment -- which actually lasted four minutes, 30 seconds -- Lysacek delivered a brilliant, career-best performance to become the first U.S. man to win the Olympic skating gold medal since Brian Boitano in 1988.

"I can't even put into words right now how I'm feeling," said Lysacek, the 24-year-old from the Chicago suburb of Naperville, who lives and trains in Los Angeles. "This is the greatest night of my life."

His universally admired coach, Carroll, undoubtedly felt the same way. At 71, after silver-medal near misses with Linda Fratianne and Michelle Kwan, the coach has his first Olympic champion.

Lysacek's mother, Tanya, who can't bear to be in the arena when her son skates, got inside in time to watch him receive the gold medal.

Lysacek, who trailed Russia's Evgeny Plushenko by 0.55 after the short program, made up the difference and more in a surprising way: higher technical element scores than Plushenko, the world's best jumper.

The American recorded a personal best total of 257.67 points, beating Plushenko, by 1.31. Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, who fell on his quadruple-jump attempt, was a distant third at 247.23.

Lysacek also had personal bests in the short program and free skate.

"To get a personal best in the most important moment of my life -- you dream about it," he said.

Johnny Weir of the United States was sixth (238.87), with teammate Jeremy Abbott ninth at 218.96.

Plushenko, silver medalist in 2002, just missed becoming the first man to win back-to-back golds since Dick Button won his second in 1952.

"I'm gonna take any result," Plushenko said. "So I have two silver medals in the Olympic Games and one gold. Not bad."

Lysacek's program to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" flowed seamlessly and contained just two of 13 elements that received negative grades of execution for relatively minor flaws.

"I tried not to get excited after each jump," said Lysacek, who executed eight triples. "I had just one shaky landing, but everything else felt strong."

As he had while finishing second in the short program, Lysacek began pumping his fists during his final combination spin. Once the music stopped, he did five double fist pumps, and with good reason.

Plushenko, 27, looked more nervous than ever, shaky in the air on three jumps, including a successful quad.

Lysacek became the first man to win Olympic gold without a quad since Russia's Alexei Urmanov in 1994.

"Evan is a good combination of athleticism and artistry," Weir said.

Lysacek also broke the world championship jinx, becoming the first reigning men's world champion to win the Olympics since Scott Hamilton of the U.S. in 1984.

"Worlds rejuvenated my love for skating, but it also confirmed to me that the most important thing about figure skating is the daily training that goes on at home," Lysacek said. "This year I've worked harder than I ever have before to prepare for this competition. The whole season has been building toward this."

Lysacek had 84.57 in technical element scores to 82.71 for Plushenko, who had higher component scores.

Weak spins and footwork sequences dragged down Plushenko's technical scores.

"Of course I'm a little upset when you can jump quads and other people can't jump quads," Plushenko said. "I think we need to change the judging system. If the Olympic champion doesn't know how to jump quads, I don't know. Now it's not mens figure skating, it's dancing."

Lysacek reinforced the feeling of those who feel the sport must be about more than jumping, gaining 1.2 points on Plushenko in the three spins.

Said Lysacek: "If it was a jumping competition they would give us 10 seconds to run and do our best jump."

That opinion was shared by International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta, who told the Chicago Tribune earlier Thursday he thinks the Russian's attitude toward skating makes him like a virtuoso pianist who wants to play only Chopin.

"We ask a pianist to perform more than Chopin," Cinquanta said. "We ask a figure skater to do not only jumps but spins and footwork.

"Figure skating is not only jumping, otherwise we become guilty of the accusation we are only an acrobatic sport."

philip.hersch@latimes.com

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