Evan Lysacek turning Olympic gold into "Dancing with the Stars" green
Evan Lysacek began his jive performance by shuffling his feet a couple times to the Avril Lavigne song, "The Best Damn Thing," as he stood behind dance partner Anna Trebunskaya. Then he leapfrogged her in what looked exactly like a figure skating move called a Russian split jump.
In advancing to Monday's Week 4 competition on TV's "Dancing With The Stars,'' the Olympic gold medalist from Naperville has leaped with élan into his uncertain new world, where he is becoming a high-flying celebrity. He did it by drawing on his old world, where he remains grounded in the fundamental notion that competitive skating remains his essence.
"I can't imagine my life without it,'' he said.
A day after he and Trebunskaya had pleased the judges and studio audience with their jive, Lysacek was sitting in a trailer on the CBS Television City studio lot, picking at a plate filled of fruit and vegetables.
At 24, Lysacek eagerly had awaited the post-Olympic moment when he no longer needed to be so weight-conscious and could scarf down burgers and fries. After a few days, he was back to fruits and vegetables. Even his diet still belongs to a figure skater's regime.
So, it would seem, does the "post-game" routine on "Dancing," where competitors are interviewed in an area that recalls an Olympic mixed zone, with TV studio spots assigned to media outlets. Only the names spell the difference: "TV Guide," "People," "US Magazine," "Fancast," "Entertainment Tonight," "Extra," "Inside Edition," "E! News."
A week after Lysacek won in Vancouver, "People" said he was an item with 2008 Olympic champion gymnast Nastia Liukin. "We're just friends," Lysacek insisted last week. Friends with benefits, as celebrity gossip sites have intimated? "That's why they are gossip sites," he said.
But it makes you wonder, how do you keep Evan Lysacek on the rink once he has been seen on Access Hollywood?
Easily, at least so far, even if Lysacek frequently has found himself skating after midnight after training with Trebunskaya and appearing on " Bonnie Hunt," "The View," "Larry King Live," "Ellen" and Letterman.
One day after advancing to Week 3 of DWTS, where he and Trebunskaya eventually would top the judges' cards, Lysacek was on a plane to Florida for his first three shows with Smuckers Stars on Ice.
He plans to make 26 stops in the 41-city, nine-week skating tour, including May 8 at Allstate Arena, which means a crazy life as long as the "Dancing" gig continues: Sunday through Tuesday in Los Angeles, the rest of the week traipsing the country with skaters until he's back in L.A. No contestant in DWTS' 10 seasons has had such a grueling schedule in balancing the world that led to the show with the world the show may lead to.
Payoff could top the pay
Lysacek will earn some $300,000 with Stars on Ice, according to people familiar with skating tour deals. "Dancing With The Stars" could bring Lysacek another $350,000 if he makes the final two, given the $365,000 that Olympic champion gymnast Shawn Johnson's contract called for when she won DWTS in May 2009, according to documents posted on TMZ.com.
It adds up to enough that Lysacek, who owns a four-bedroom house in Las Vegas and rents a house in Hollywood, plans to buy a $269,000 Aston Martin DBS — whenever he can find the time to shop for it.
Whatever the immediate financial reward from "Dancing With The Stars," Lysacek's long-term gain from the reality show should be substantial, especially with the boffo ratings for the current season (Week 1 was its most-watched premiere; Week 2 the most-watched show on television; Week 3 its best-ever showing on the night of the NCAA men's basketball championship game).
"It definitely brought my name back into people's minds," said 1992 Olympic figure skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi, who had stopped tour skating — and entirely left the limelight — six years before she won "Dancing" in May 2008.
"I see more younger kids now — and boys — who recognize me than their moms (did). I think it could definitely open up a different demographic for Evan."
Few figure skaters get TV commercials. Yamaguchi appeared in one for TurboTax this winter.
Bob Dorfman, executive vice president of Baker Street Advertising, was among several sports marketing experts contacted by the Tribune who all agreed Lysacek's "Dancing" engagement has a big upside.
"I'd say it's likely worth at least $1 million to his bank account — in terms of additional exposure, increased popularity and broadened demographic appeal — all of which could lead to greater endorsement opportunities, appearance fees and the like," Dorfman said in an e-mail. "Assuming he is competing in the Sochi Games, that could make him a more marketable athlete in 2014."
Nearly all Olympic athletes are more marketable in the year leading up to an Olympics than the years after, no matter what medal they bring home, no matter if it is a triumph as stunning as Lysacek's over 2006 Olympic champion Evgeny Plushenko of Russia.
Steve Disson, who produces skating TV specials in which Lysacek has performed, thinks he would have a special opportunity to capitalize on 2014.
"He becomes not just the past Olympic champion but the one trying to become the first man since Dick Button (in 1952) to win consecutive golds and possibly trying to beat Plushenko in his own country," Disson said. " ‘Dancing With The Stars' will make him a celebrity, not just a skating celebrity. Winning another gold could make him one of skating's biggest celebrities."
Olympics on ice, for now
He seems comfortable in both settings. Lysacek wore the tasseled 2010 U.S. Olympic Opening Ceremony toque while going for a fitting of his jive costume, a black leather jacket with jet hematite crystals, black T-shirt, pegged pants, pink socks and black Converse All-Stars. On the way into the fitting room, he appropriated a white sequined glove for his Stars on Ice routine to Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror."
Lysacek bit into a piece of pineapple while chewing on thoughts of his future and his reasons for competing on a reality show rather than defend his world title last month in Italy — a choice that Paul Swangard of Warsaw Sports Marketing Center said "extends his window of relevance."
"I'm not looking for a spinoff show or trying to promote anything," Lysacek said. "I'm just doing this show because I enjoy learning something new, and it satisfies my competitive fire while doing something fun."
He does not expect to make any decisions about remaining in Olympic-style skating until the end of June's Stars on Ice tour in South Korea. But he already can't imagine taking a three-year break from competition, as both Plushenko and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen did before their comebacks for the 2010 season.
"My feeling is if I'm going to try for another Olympic Games, I can't miss a whole season," Lysacek said. "But I haven't had a free second to plot my life, and I'm not good at wavering. I'm good at setting a goal and figuring out the steps I need to accomplish it."
For now, those are mainly dance steps, and "Dancing With The Stars" professional Mark Ballas choreographed his Stars on Ice program, allowing Evan Lysacek to keep two feet in both worlds.
-- Philip Hersh
Photo: Evan Lysacek, right, and pro partner Anna Trebunskaya perform on the celebrity dance competition series "Dancing With the Stars." Credit: Adam Larkey, AP.