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Lysacek edges Plushenko for Olympic gold

American defeats mighty Russian with superior free

Gold medalist Evan Lysacek (right) on the medal podium with Evgeni Plushenko (left), who won the silver medal.
Gold medalist Evan Lysacek (right) on the medal podium with Evgeni Plushenko (left), who won the silver medal. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/19/2010) - The verdict is in: you don't need a quad to win the Olympics.

Not if you can skate like Evan Lysacek did on Thursday night.

The 24-year-old from Naperville, Ill., became the first reigning world champion since Scott Hamilton in 1984 to triumph at the Olympics, edging defending champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia by 1.31 points.

Lysacek is the first man to win Olympic gold without a quad since Alexei Urmanov in 1994.

Daisuke Takahashi took bronze, the first Olympic figure skating medal won by a Japanese man.

"It was definitely my best," Lysacek said. "That's what I came here to do. It's been tough the last couple of months, not thinking of the results here, but I wanted to shove all those thoughts out of my head.

"My thought process was just, basically, mind your own business. I wrote it on a little card when I got here, and I taped it up in my room: mind your own business. Worry about what I have to do, what my job is. And the truth of the matter is I accomplished that mission here."

All week long, the American had said he would not attempt a quadruple toe loop in his free skate to Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, due to lingering soreness in his left foot.

Instead, he would concentrate on what he does best: intricate transitions in and out of elements, especially his opening triple Lutz, triple toe loop combination, an abundance of Level 4 elements and rip-roaring step sequences.

Lysacek did this and more with precision and abandon, racking up 167.37 points in the free, some ten points more than his previous personal best. He earned 257.67 overall.

"I've worked on the quad and several other jumps for years, and I know how many hours and how much energy it takes to work on those jumps," Lysacek said.

"It pales in comparison to the time it takes to work on the spins and get the transitions down and get the stamina to put it all into a 4 minute, 40 second program."

Plushenko, too, skated clean, but small glitches on his jump landings -- including his opening triple Axel combination, downgrading a planned quad, triple, double combination to a quad, triple and two fewer Level 4 elements -- made the difference.

The Russian, who also won silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, was less than gracious in the mixed zone.

"I was sure that I had won my second Olympic Games, but this is the new system," Plushenko, 27, said. "The quad is not valued any more. Apparently, this is what figure skating needs today."

Lysacek and Plushenko have engaged in a low-wattage battle of words about the quad all week, with Plushenko saying he has done the jump since 1994 and adding, "Without the quad, I am sorry, but it is not men."

At the press conference after the short program, Lysacek parried, "If you talk to a speed skater, I don't think he'd say one stroke was more important than another...It's just as difficult to have the kind of intricate program I have, with the difficult transitions, than [it is to] do a quad."

Tonight, both men earned 82.80 points for their five program components, what used to be called "the second mark."

Technically, Lysacek had a few minor imperfections -- his triple flip combination received an edge warning. Had he received an edge deduction, the gold would likely be Plushenko's, but including five jump elements in the second half of his program, and Plushenko's decision not to include a second quad, gave the American gold.

"Today I did what I [could do] in my power, and what I had was not a bad skate," Plushenko said. "As far as the second quad, it was never planned.

"First and foremost I want to state that I respect my competitors . . . However my basic position is that movement must go forward, never stop, never go back. After this defeat, I will not put my hands down and stop. I think people need to do lots of quads."

Trying a quad may have cost Takahashi the silver medal.

The Japanese champion skated a stylish and nuanced program to music from Nino Rota's La Strada, but fell on his opening quad toe loop, which was also judged under rotated by the technical panel. He earned just one point for the move and placed fifth in the free, with 247.23 points overall.

"I always had the quad in mind," Takahashi said. "For me, I felt the ideal skate would have to include the quad. As an athlete, I always strive for ideal performances. I do not regret it at all. It is a challenge for me and a good experience."

Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland was third in the free and fourth overall, missing the podium by just 0.51.

The master spinner had an exciting program to Verdi's La Traviata but faltered slightly on the landings of many of his jumps, including two quad toes, and did not include a triple Axel in his program.

Canada's Patrick Chan was fifth in the free and fifth overall after an entertaining but technically flawed outing to Phantom of the Opera.

The 19-year-old covered the ice with speed and assurance, executing exciting steps and masterful spread eagles but turned out of a triple Lutz and fell on his second triple Axel. He earned 241.42 points overall.

Johnny Weir placed sixth in the free and sixth overall after an inspired performance to "Fallen Angel."

Just as he did in the short program, the three-time U.S. champion lost ground on his triple flip when he was assessed a penalty by the technical panel for an incorrect outside edge take-off.

Otherwise, it was his strongest free skate of the year, with three triple jump combinations, two after the halfway point.

"I knew that things would be difficult tonight, and the result would not be something I could control, as much as I maybe have in the past," Weir said.

"My goal and my job was to skate as well as I could. The audience reaction was my gold medal tonight...There were some small technicalities I could have done better, but I made myself proud. I came back and tried to skate again this year for all the right reasons."

By his high standards, it was another disappointing performance for Jeremy Abbott, who arrived in Vancouver full of promise after superb programs at the U.S. Championships in Spokane last month.

The U.S. champion fell on his opening quad toe and popped his triple flip before settling down to execute two triple Axel combinations. He placed ninth in the free and climbed to ninth overall after placing 15th in the short.

"I'm disappointed with both of my performances," Abbott said. "But I'm really happy with the fight I had.

"After the triple flip, I gave myself a time out. I told myself, you can't just give up and die here."

Things just kept getting worse for Brian Joubert. The 2007 world champion, expected to contend for a medal here, fell on his first quad attempt and tripled his second. It was downhill from there, as the French heartthrob turned out of a triple Axel and left out one of his combinations. He placed 16th in the free and 16th overall.