American Takes Figure Skating Gold

USA's Evan Lysacek holds up the American flag after winning the gold medal in the men's free program figure skating competition. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Evan Lysacek won the Olympic gold. Evgeni Plushenko won the argument.

The quad, the toughest jump there is in figure skating, is the way of the future. It has to be for the sport to keep progressing. Plushenko is right there.

Only the judges didn't see it that way on Thursday night.

They made Lysacek the champion, even though he didn't land or even attempt the devilishly hard jump with four revolutions.

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Plushenko did do a quad, and he got only the silver, but he could still have the last word.

Take a look around.

In snowboarding, Shaun White is throwing down ever-crazier moves, pushing the boundaries of his sport.

In Alpine skiing, racers are putting life and limb on the line every time they click into their bindings and head downhill.

In the process, they helped NBC clobber "American Idol" in the television ratings.

Viewers, in short, like stuff that's new and they like risk.

But figure skating? Well, quads were a staple for the top men before the sport rewrote its points system after the Salt Lake City judging scandal in 2002.

Now, they are a dying breed.

No matter which way you spin it, and in skating they spin it better than anyone, that does not represent progress.

"It's not men's figure skating," Plushenko said contemptuously. "Now, it's dancing."

Lysacek's routine was super, but conservative, too. With his big frame, sleeked-back Pierce Brosnan hair and sober black costume, he oozed power and control. His opening combination of jumps was velvet-smooth.

It could not be said that he was an undeserved winner.

But it wasn't edge-of-seat stuff, either. His jumps were at best triples, not quads. The envelope was not pushed.

He micromanaged his way to gold. Plushenko went for a bigger bang, but his jumps weren't as clean.

In layman's terms, it would be the difference between a nice, solid and reliable pickup truck and the far edgier but not as practical Lamborghini that snowboarder White has in his garage.

Lysacek practically admitted as much, saying that he had shown "a complete package" of skating moves, not just giant jumps.

"If it was a jumping competition they'd give you 10 seconds to go and do your best jump," the American said.

As long as skating's points system stays as it is, this argument will rumble on and on.

At the moment, landing a quad properly can bring big rewards. Plushenko got 14.6 points for the quad and triple toeloop with which he opened his program.

It was a sight to behold. Plushenko spun so fast that it was a wonder he didn't drill into the ice on landing.

But quads are risky, because they are so hard to do well. Skaters who don't manage to pull them off, like bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi, can be heavily penalized. Takahashi fell hard attempting his quad and got just one point for it.

So many skaters don't attempt them. They play it safe with easier moves they are more confident of landing.

But who, honestly, likes safe?

Not Plushenko.

"We need to change the system, judging system, because quad is quad. If Olympic champion, he doesn't know how to jump quad, no, I don't know."

His manager, Ari Zakarian, was more succinct: "We are going in the direction of becoming ballet on ice."

He suggested that in the wake of this defeat, Plushenko might not compete when the games move to his native Russia in four years time.

If "the quad is not going to be appreciated, probably (he) will never try to go for the Olympics," Zakarian said. "Now, he just finished (his program) and he says, 'You know what? That's it.' He says, 'I don't see any future here."'

Plushenko, asked later about those comments, said: "Who said? My manager? He lied to you, he is joking."'

Perhaps. Time will tell.

But the risk of skating standing still is not so funny.
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