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Orser gets last word on men's skate result: 'The right winner, given the system'

February 23, 2010 |  1:09 pm

Evan To all the e-mailers and commenters on this blog who think I am either 1) anti-Russian or 2) anti-athleticism in figure skating in my reasoning about why Evan Lysacek deserved the men's gold medal and Evgeni Plushenko deserved to be sent to the corner for his terrible twos tantrum: You are missing the point.

The point is that Plushenko and his coaching team did not make a serious effort to figure out how to get the most of a scoring system that has been considerably modified since it was first used at an Olympics in 2006 -- when the Russian was a most deserving champion.

Lysacek, his choreographer, Lori Nichol, and his coach, Frank Carroll, constructed a free skate program that took advantage of every point-getting opportunity, provided the skater executed his elements well. They knew that spins and footwork sequences could be as important as jumps, and they knew there was a bonus for jumps in the latter half of the program.

What always has made figure skating special is its combination of sport and art.  The new judging system tries to recognize that a beautiful spin is as compelling as a quadruple jump, even while giving a skater more than twice as many points for the quad than for the spin.

The Russians' gripe should be with the system, not the result. But rather than whining for a week about skaters without quadruple jumps returning the sport to the land before time, they should have spent more time and energy on living in the present. The system was not going to change before the Olympics.

One can certainly argue whether a quad should be worth more points -- as long as the penalty for failing to pull it off remains stiff. That debate already has gone on for a while, and it should continue.  

Before I defer to an expert, two-time Olympic silver medalist turned coach Brian Orser, I need to make one point about the harshest criticism of Lysacek's victory, which came from two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko of Canada in his Yahoo! Sports blog headlined, "The night they killed figure skating.''

Stojko, a marvelous athlete remembered for having been the first to land a combination with a quad, conveniently forgot that he won both his Olympic medals with a triple axel as his hardest jump. (Yes, I know a groin injury prevented him from trying a quad in 1998.)

And now, Orser's take to my question about whether the judges picked the right winner, "given the way the system is":

Orser "Key words: 'Given the way the system is,''' said Orser, coach of women's Olympic favorite Kim Yuna of South Korea. "The right winner was absolutely picked. I am a big fan of advancing the sport. I was one of the first ones to do triple axel, and I'm proud of that. I think that men's skating will continue to grow.

"With this system, when you have 13 elements (in the long program) -- you have the quad, there's one, and then you have 12 more. Evan won on the technical score because of his GOEs (grades of execution) and because everything else was very good and sound. And then the components were also good. I have no question about who the winner was. I knew instantly it was going to go that way and should go that way.''

Orser thought Plushenko's absence from competition for the three years after winning in 2006 might have played into his failure to grasp the nuances of the system's 2010 incarnation.

"All of these guys who have been skating through these last four years have been skating with the system and trying to capitalize on the points,'' Orser said. "They know about a really nice triple lutz with a nice landing and a triple-triple with lots of flow and nice landing.''

-- Philip Hersh in Vancouver, Canada

Top photo: Evgeni Plushenko, left, and Evan Lysacek on the podium in Vancouver. Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune. Bottom photo: Brian Orser with Kim Yuna at Monday's practice. Credit: Mark Baker / Associated Press