How Evan Lysacek won and why judges don’t like Johnny Weir

The skating world was stunned by Evan Lysacek beating favorite Yevgeny Plushenko in the men's figure skating competition. The fans seemed more perplexed by Johnny Weir's low scores.

Evan Lysacek shows the gold he won in men's figure skating at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday.
American Johnny Weir had to settle for sixth place – and a crown of roses – in the men's figure skating final at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday.

“With the old system, I must win.”

Thus spoke Yevgeny Plushenko, the Russian figure skater who was destined to win gold here in Vancouver, yet somehow didn’t. And he is almost certainly right.

How did Evan Lysacek top him for the gold Thursday night? For the first time in Olympic history, the world can look at the scores of a close figure skating contest and know the answer definitively.

And the answer shows how dramatically the new scoring system has changed figure skating. Evan Lysacek won gold because of his spins.

Under the 6.0 system, such a statement would have been almost inconceivable.

Plushenko was the favorite, he did the bigger jumps, and he didn’t fall. What’s more, his showmanship stood in stark contrast to Lysacek’s cool efficiency.

Yet by all subjective measures, the judges saw the two performances evenly. In the so-called program components, where judges have some license to score based on broad categories such as choreography and interpretation, Lysacek and Plushenko scored an identical 82.80 points.

The math behind the gold

It was in the tricks and their execution that Lysacek won. Specifically, it was on spins and step sequences – two elements that were almost time-fillers between jumps in the 6.0 system.

Led by his high-scoring quad toe loop–triple toe loop combination, Plushenko outscored Lysacek on his eight jumps. But Lysacek’s second-tier jumps – not the signature big scorers – were more difficult and cleaner than Plushenko’s, which kept him close.

In the end, Plushenko outscored Lysacek in the jumps by only 0.3 points. Given that his lead from the short program was thin – only 0.55 points – that brought the spins and step sequences into play as potential deciding factors.

They were. Plushenko lost his entire 0.85 advantage in spins. All three of Lysacek’s spin sequences were rated level 4 – the highest level of difficulty. Only two of Plushenko’s were level 4. Over all three spins, Lyscek outscored Plushenko by 1.26 points.

And Plushenko fell 0.9 points farther behind in his step sequences, resulting in Lysacek’s 1.31 overall margin of victory.

What about Johnny Weir?

Within Pacific Coliseum, however, the greater confusion seemed to be over Johnny Weir’s scores. Despite a flawless performance, he finished sixth.

Part of that, he acknowledged, was because “I did a lot of leave-outs,” lowering the difficulty of his routine.

Yet his execution kept him in medal contention. His technical score of 79.67 was 6.19 points higher than that of bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi.

So how did Weir lose his chance at bronze?

Simply put, the judges didn’t like his routine much. Weir scored 77.10 points in the more subjective program components. Takahashi scored 84.50 – 7.4 points higher.

Weir, at least, took solace from the fact that the crowd disagreed.

“As Lady Gaga would say, ‘I have all my role models out there,’ ” he said afterward. “I may not be the most decorated person in the skating world, but judging by the audience reaction … they go on my journeys with me.”


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