VANCOUVER — Evan Lysacek has given the United States its first men’s Olympic figure skating gold medal in 22 years.
The American did it with a flawless performance in the free skate Thursday, beating defending champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia with a total score of 257.67.
Clad in a black Vera Wang suit that featured a pair of jewel-encrusted snakes, the reigning world champion skated a rousing routine set to Sheherazade that brought the crowd to its feet. He pumped both his fists into the air afterwards, clearly pumped up by his performance. The last American to win Olympic gold was Brian Boitano in 1988 in Calgary, when he edged Canadian Brian Orser. Plushenko, who led going into the free skate, was runner-up with 256.36. Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi was third.
Toronto’s Patrick Chan was fifth with 241.42 after placing fourth in the free skate. He entered the free skate in seventh place.
Skating to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, Chan started strong but he stepped out of the landing on his triple Lutz and fell on his second triple Axel. He recovered to finish his free skate with poise and was in first place heading into the last group of skaters.
But with a field this strong, his score simply wasn’t going to hold up. A medal hopeful entering the men’s Olympic competition, Chan couldn’t make up enough ground after turning in a disappointing short program.
“The best part was not the marks, it was just the crowd, the Canadian crowd and they passion that they show for their athletes,” Chan said. “Makes me realize how proud I am to be Canadian. Before the marks came up, I said I feel like I let the audience down because I didn’t give a great performance that they would have enjoyed, but in the end, they still loved me as much as they would if I had done a great program, and I love Vancouver and the people here for that.”
Chan said making his Olympic debut on home soil was tough.
“I wish I had one more Olympics under my belt before I came here, this is kind of an overwhelming first Olympics,” Chan said. “In the end, that’s why I’m looking at Sochi and see how that goes, but it’s a long way. But I overcame this, this is like Mount Everest, so if I overcame this, I can overcome anything else.”
Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel, who came out of retirement in 2009, finished fourth with his program set to “La Traviata.” He was the silver medallist at the 2006 Games in Turin.
Crowd favourite Johnny Weir, wearing a relatively subdued top and white gloves to go with black tights, finished sixth with a routine to “Fallen Angel.” Entertaining as always, he wore a ridiculously large ring of roses on his head and held an oversized bouquet in the “kiss and cry.” It didn’t help his score, as Weir finished with 156.77 in the long program and a final score of 238.87.
Japan’s Nobunari Oda’s routine set to “Charlie Chaplin Medley” was interrupted when he broke his right skate lace after falling on a triple loop, and it cost him as he slipped from fourth to seventh.
Vaughn Chipeur of Edmonton was 23rd with 170.92 points, his two major errors coming on his planned triple Axels — he singled both.
Chan struggled through a shaky short program Tuesday, admitting he felt overwhelmed when he took to the ice. The reigning world silver medallist, and one of Canada’s top hopes for a podium finish in Vancouver, stepped out of his triple Axel, uncharacteristically stumbled on the step sequence that is normally one of his strengths. He was also docked a point for going over the time limit, admitting he was a little behind his music from the start.
The Toronto skater went into the long program hoping to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Jeffrey Buttle, who was sixth after the short at the 2006 Olympics, then battled back to win bronze.
But the 19-year-old Chan, who trailed Plushenko by nine points, needed the skate of his life in the long program — and for those above him to falter — to have any hope of reaching the podium. It didn’t happen.
The return of Plushenko ignited the argument about artistry versus athleticism — or the inclusion of the quad jump, which has polarized the men’s field. The steely Russian bashed his rivals Tuesday, saying men’s figure skating sans quad, “isn’t men’s figure skating.” But most of the field, including Chan, didn’t attempt the four-revolution jump in the short program believing the risk was too great.
Chan carried the weight of lofty expectations into Vancouver, from a country that has never won Olympic men’s gold in figure skating. His smiling face was one of the most recognizable of these Games, thanks to several high-profile ad campaigns. But the past few months haven’t exactly been conducive to excellence. He was hit by the flu in September, tore his calf muscle a couple of weeks later that knocked him out of most of the Grand Prix season, then Don Laws quit as his coach a mere month out from the Games.
Skate Canada officials had hoped for three medals in Vancouver, including one from Chan. But amid such a stacked field and lacking the experience of most of his rivals — Chan’s first world championship appearance was less than two years ago — a medal would have taken two virtually flawless performances.
Buttle’s medal was Canada’s lone podium performance in figure skating in Turin.