Evan Lysacek, with his bird-like black costumes and soft personality, skated to win a gold medal on Thursday night in the men’s figure skating finals. He narrowly took the lead over the smug, self-assured Yevgeny Plushenko. Lysacek deserved the win – his jumps were clean and well-executed. His footwork, transitions, and spin were intricate. By contrast, Plushenko, who won the gold medal in Turino and had come out of retirement to go for a second gold and reach the status of Dick Button (who won gold in 1948 and 1952), had weaker quality, if more technically complicated jumps and almost nothing between them. He cast himself as a villain in the sport, one with many enemies, a man who drove a fast car (the segment on him showed clips of him driving a black Mercedes through gray Moscow) and was hated for being the best. Sure.
After the skate, Plushenko told the media that he was surprised a skater who did not jump a quad (four rotations) had won the gold medal. He went so far as to call the sport ice dancing if a man cannot jump a quad. His coach mirrored these sentiments, saying that the competition may as well be women’s figure skating, or combined into a unisex event. Ok, that’s the oldest insult in the book: he just called Lysacek a girl. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened, saying Plushenko’s silver was good as gold. The Iron Curtain still exists… on ice!
A subdued Lysacek appeared on NBC with Bob Costas yesterday evening, almost a little befuddled. I don’t think he could quite understand why his role model Plushenko would berate him and stab him in the back like that. Cold War politics, anyone? This is like Moose and Squirrel against Boris and Natasha, Inspector Gadget (more like niece Penny and dog Brain) against Dr. Claw and the agents of MAD.
There’s a lot of discussion out there about the new scoring system. Lysacek used the new system to his advantage, whereas Plushenko would have fared better under the old. I’m not sure about all that. I just think Lysacek skated better in this competition. Perhaps controversy in this sport exists because there’s always a subjective element. However, I do think the new system, implemented after the Canada v. Russia controversy of Salt Lake City in 2002, has taken some of that out. Incidentally, Lysacek’s coach, Frank Carroll, also coaches China’s gold medal winning pairs figure skaters, Shen Xue and Zhang Hangbo.