Four years later, Lysacek's heart still on the ice2010 Olympic gold medalist on Plushenko: 'I wouldn't count him out'
Evan Lysacek sat in the stands in the training facility in Sochi, watching Friday afternoon's ladies practice.
He's here as an analyst with The Today Show, previewing and commenting on events as they unfold, while also working with Olympic sponsors Citi, Deloitte, P&G and Coca-Cola, as well as the United States Olympic Committee.
That's what is in his head. His heart is still out there on the ice, stroking around with Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner.
"When does this feeling stop?" he asked the woman beside him.
"Six years," Michelle Kwan said. "It takes about six years."
Lysacek had planned to be in Sochi, but as a skater, not a commentator. A torn labrum in his left hip put an end to a dream of a third Olympics. He won gold in 2010 and placed fourth in 2006.
"My heart is still broken to not be here competing," Lysacek, 28, said. "I love skating, and in addition to being an athlete, I'm a big fan of the sport. I'm here to support our country and wear a little bit of a different hat, working with The Today Show."
It's a big step in Lysacek's emotional recovery from being unable to try to defend his Olympic crown. According to his coach, Frank Carroll, the skater couldn't bring himself to attend the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, where the other U.S. Olympic gold medalists had gathered to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. championships.
"He was too depressed to go to nationals," said Carroll, who is here coaching Gold. "He thought he might never skate again. I tell him, 'Evan, you don't know what's going to happen with your body.' That whole mess -- and it was a mess, let me tell you -- might work itself out."
Lysacek, who has not skated in 13 weeks, wants back on the ice, bad.
"My last several weeks with this injury were just so painful on so many levels," he said. "Physically excruciating, but also as I started to realize [it was] not going to happen for me, it was painful to accept.
"I don't want those to be my last memories on the ice. I want to skate again -- in what capacity, I don't know. Right now, I'm just hoping to get back on the ice as soon as possible."
If last Friday was any indication, The Today Show will get its money's worth from Lysacek, who watched the skaters closely and made pithy observations about each. His goal is to bring what he calls "a very current perspective" to the show's coverage.
"Both the U.S. ladies look strong, especially Gracie," he said. "I see a lot of improvement already since nationals with speed. She's really looking very, very polished.
"Mao [Asada] looks insane. She's so good -- strength and jumps, of course, but also the complexity of her programs. I noticed in particular she is never on two feet; she is always on one foot, which is what judges look for in the components. They look for so much: transitions, edges, speed, multi-directional movement; she has all of that stuff."
Lysacek attended the men's and pairs team short program events last Thursday. He watched his old rival, Evgeni Plushenko, skate a clean program, including at quad toe-triple toe combination. It took him by surprise.
"I was watching the men's practice, and I don't think any of us knew what to expect, because he didn't show us anything," he said. "It will be just as exciting to see the long, because he won't show that in practice, either. But he does look technically sound and technically put together."
Lysacek put on his commentator's hat, analyzing Plushenko's chances. He defeated the Russian by 1.31 points for Olympic gold in Vancouver.
"His weakness has always kind of been in the components, the [lack of] complexity of his programs," he said. "The short program usually sheds less of a spotlight on that than the free skate does, so the free skate will be very telling."
As we all know now, Plushenko won the team men's free skate, despite doubling several planned triple jumps and seemingly improvising much of his choreography.
Four years after Vancouver, is it possible Plushenko could contend for an individual medal?
"I wouldn't count him out," Lysacek said. "I think he is definitely still a major player. He is as tough as any athlete in any sport, to go out and do that on home turf. When the Russian pair team skated, people were very loud and rowdy. When Plushenko skated, the crowd was like sort of silent and, in a way, nervous for him. It was cool to see that."
Lysacek named Japanese champion Yuzuru Hanyu as a favorite for gold.
"We've seen all season he is technically strong. He's a great jumper, and he skates with abandon," he said. "But [the] Olympics is different. Sometimes you never know how a skater will react to the pressure of the Olympic spotlight, especially a teenager."
"Hanyu looks so relaxed; that is what's most impressive," Lysacek continued. "He was maybe faster, maybe stronger than even in the regular season."
After Sochi, Lysacek puts on another hat: sports envoy for the U.S. Department of State.
"I'm playing the role of U.S. ambassador for sport, promoting the diplomacy of sport," he said. "I am going to St. Petersburg, to do some work with new sports programs."
As he sees it, staring at computer or iPad screens for hours on end has contributed to obesity and health problems in both children and adults. His goal as an envoy is to help spread the word about the benefits of getting out and being active.
"Athletics and an active lifestyle are very important parts of my life, and I want to share that," Lysacek said.