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Sarah Morris: Lysacek and Plushenko proved figure skating is a sport

February 19, 2010 |  2:20 pm

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Thursday night Evan Lysacek became the first American male to win the Olympic figure skating competition since the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Evgeni Plushenko, who took a 3 ½-year break from the sport, hoped to become the first man to repeat as an Olympic gold medalist since Dick Button accomplished this in 1948 and 1952 but had to settle for the silver. While able to land the quadruple jump, Plushenko lacked artistry and grade of execution on his jumps. Daiskue Takahaski captured the bronze becoming the first Japanese male to medal in Olympic figure skating. 

The Vancouver Olympics had the deepest male figure skating field in the history of the competition. Most men skated beautifully, but no one came close to Lysacek, the reigning world champion. A few men, including the silver medalist Plushenko, attempted a quad, but the difficult jump didn't guarantee a medal.  While the new complex point system that judges figure skating has been widely criticized for emphasizing the athleticism over the artistry, Thursday night the most complete skater earned the gold.

Many people don't think figure skating is a sport. Although many great performances are not winners because the judges didn't like what the common fan likes, figure skating definitely is a sport. In the past, judging was subjective. However, now every move has points rewarded. Though jumps catch everyone's eyes, the difficult footwork and fast spins are also awarded points. While most sports don't have artistry, figure skating is a beautiful sport.  The participants need to perform to the audience.  Lysacek was an artist.  Plushenko could land all of the jumps, but he didn't appear to be light on his feet while Lysacek did everything gracefully and effortlessly. 

Figure skating needs incredible endurance.  Though the long program is only four and a half minutes, it takes much energy from any skater because he can't take a break during the program.  Before the new point system was invented, most figure skaters did their jumps in the first two minutes.  Now the figure skaters get 10 percent more for a jump after the half way mark of the program.  The 2006 Olympic champion did his jumps in the first half.  Lysacek spread his difficult moves throughout his program. 

Lysacek trains hard to have everything needed to win a competition.  His coach, Frank Carroll, sometimes has told Lysacek to stop practicing.  He has practiced his programs every day.  While in Vancouver, Plushenko has practiced some elements of his programs but never skated his entire long program until Thursday night.  The better conditioning of Lysacek was evident and enabled him to win the gold medal. 

Plushenko came into the Olympic competition over confident. No other skater can jump like Plushenko.  Though Thursday night he had many awkward take-off jumps, he always landed on one foot. He wasn't graceful.  His footwork was dull, and his spins seemed slow and not inspired. Except for his exceptional jump ability, Plushenko's performance wasn't memorable.  He will go into figure skating history as the greatest jumper. This wasn't what he wanted. Plushenko needed to prepare better for the Winter Olympics to repeat as a gold medalist.

Before skating his Olympic long program, Lysacek was visibly nervous. During the warm-up just before his long program, he appeared to be tight. A tight skater usually doesn't perform well.  The level-headed Carroll, who has coached many world champions but never coached an Olympian champion until Thursday night, calmed his nervous pupil.

From the start of his long program, Lysacek had a visible determination to do his best.  Most athletes find it hard to perform well when they are nervous and want to win so badly. Unlike in his short program, he didn't skate easily or seem to enjoy himself. Clearly, he felt the pressure of the Olympics. Being a world champion is fantastic, but nothing compares to earning the Olympic title. Lysacek skated the performance of his life on the biggest stage in the world.  After the performance was completed, Lysacek showed his excitement on the ice. No matter what happened with the medals, he was thrilled with his skate.

Takahaski skated beautifully. He attempted a quad and failed. If Takahaski didn't fall, he might have won the silver medal. His quality of skating was nearly as good as Lysacek.

While watching the men's competition, people saw the future of the sport, and it looks bright. Many younger athletes competed well though they lacked something in their skating. Barring major injuries, the 2014 Winter Olympic male figure skating competition should be special. 

Twenty-two years ago in Canada Brian Boitano won a gold medal upsetting a pre-Olympic favorite, Brian Orser. Thursday Evan Lysacek made history when he beat a pre-Olympic favorite Russian Plushenko who wanted the Olympic competition to be decided by the quad. He became a national Olympic hero. 

-- Sarah D. Morris

Morris has  been writing for the Dodgers website since August 2001. Since early in her childhood, she has watched and enjoyed the Winter Olympics and Dodgers baseball. She dreamed of being a sportswriter after completing junior college though she has cerebral palsy. Her articles can be found here.

Photo: Evan Lysacek during his gold-medal winning performance. Credit: Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles Times.

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