Olympic figure skating: A night of poetry equal to Johnny Weir’s roses

Evan Lysacek took the gold, Johnny Weir once again almost stole the show, and Yevgeny Plushenko, the defending Russian champion, was left grumbling about quads and the future of ice skating.

By , Staff writer

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    Gold medallist Evan Lysacek of the USA, center, silver medallist Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, left, and bronze medallist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, right, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the men's figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
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Yes, there were the medals. Gold for America’s Evan Lysacek, silver for two-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia, and bronze for a very happy Daisuke Takahashi of Japan who redeemed himself after a hard opening fall.

But there were so many more moments of humanity. Moments that made Johnny Weir’s ridiculously huge bouquet of red roses – with enough white ones to spell “J” – seem almost appropriate.

Like lines of poetry, these moments didn’t follow the grammar of Olympic performances or the rhyming of preparation with perfect performance. But they were evocative. There was the unexpected moment of normality, when the audience was silenced as if Nobunari Oda’s skate lace had been what was holding them together. And then, the crowd clapping in accelerating unison for him to come back on the ice – which he did, with supreme poise.

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There was Stéphane Lambiel’s silky back crossovers and superior spins that both he and the crowd savored, never mind that he missed the bronze by 0.5 points. There was Canada’s love for Patrick Chan, which his whole performance reflected – despite two falls that left him in sixth place overall.

Even Johnny Weir kept a lid on the drama. After his clean skate resulted in a comparatively low score, it was his white-gloved hand that urged a booing crowd to settle down. Their roaring with tolling bells and wild cheers throughout the program had lifted his spirits, he said – as if the red-rose garland wasn’t enough proof of how much he is adored by those who aren’t put off by pink ribbons.

“The audience reaction was my gold medal tonight,” said a happy Weir afterward, parading out in sequined skate guards that matched his suit. “Evan deserves everything he does achieve. I have always been impressed by Evan’s work ethic.”

Lysacek reiterated that consistent, disciplined work matters, even when you think you’re too good for it.

“I resisted so many times – I can do a [toe-]loop,” he said, recalling how much his coach had made him work on every element of his 4-minute, 40-second program. But it paid off. “Tonight the focus was to get every point out of the program.”

Indeed, Lysacek won not on his jumps, but on everything in-between – particularly spins and footwork.

“If it were a jumping contest, they’d give us 10 seconds to do our best jump – without music,” he said dryly.

Plushenko’s quads, darting karate kicks, and fiery eyes weren’t quite enough to conquer the judges. Adding to the buzz around whether men’s skating should be weighted toward athleticism (read: quad jumps) or artistry (read: Stéphane Lambiel), the Russian and his coach were quite clear.

“Quad is quad,” said Plushenko, looking down his nose at a scrum of reporters – and not only because he’s tall. “What is now is not men’s figure skating; it is dancing.”

His coach, Alexey Michin, said he respects winners, but appealed to the enduring ideals of the Olympics in arguing that athletes that push the envelope should be rewarded. “The slogan of the Olympic Games is citius, altius, fortius [faster, higher, stronger]– it’s what we should do. It’s progress.”

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