It was a tight three-way competition for the Men’s Free Skate program Thursday night at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver between Japan’s Daisuke Takahasi, USA’s Evan Lysacek, and Russia’s Yevgeny Plushenko, who was leading by less than a point going in. When the last six men took to the ice, Lysacek went first. Another skater had to stop his program to tie-up his lace that came undone near the end of his performance. The leader, Plushenko, skated in the lucky position of closing out the free skate program. What would this evening bring? Less than stellar performances or pure entertainment like it was in the Short Program? What about an upset? Anything can happen in these Winter Olympics. That’s been proven time and time again.
NBC’s telecast of the men’s single skating finals was presented “live” for the Eastern and Central time zones. It finally came on sometime after 10 p.m. when they began showing the last two remaining groups Thursday. The first skater the television viewers saw was the U.S. Nationals Champion, Jeremy Abbott, who seemed to buckle under the pressure of international competition. The commentators stated Abbott does well domestically, but in the World Championships and Olympics, he’s less than stellar. The other skaters in this first group are very young, but definitely rising stars for the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia such as Patrick Chan of Canada, Denis Tan from Kazakhstan, and Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka. Be sure to remember those names.
During the warm-up for the second and final group the commentators stated Lysacek looked tense and nervous. It didn’t sound promising since he was up next. Whatever nerves, anxieties, or tensions Lysacek was experiencing earlier on literally melted away once he started his program. He was stellar from start to finish as Evan Lysacek completed all the required jumps, leaps, spirals, and spins flawlessly. I was amazed how tall he is, almost the height of an NBA professional by men’s skating standards. It was incredible to watch him skate and to see how pleased he was with his performance at the end. The score given was Lysacek’s personal best. He’s the one to beat now as he shot up into first place.
The next skater, Nobunari Oda of Japan’s routine was very silly as he was trying to channel Charlie Chaplin on the ice. That may be more appropriate for an exhibition program, or the Ice Capades, but not the Olympics. However, something happened that has not occurred in Olympic competition before. All of a sudden Oda stops skating his routine and is going toward the judges area. At first I thought he suffered an injury and needed to stop. Finally, they stopped the music as it was determined his one skate’s laces came undone during his long program. Now he had only three minutes to correct this problem or forfeit his scores. It was a race against the clock. Finally Oda went back onto the ice as if nothing happened. He went right into his routine in perfect synchronization to the music with a difficult sit spin that was preceded immediately. You had to admire this skater’s determination.
My personal favorite skater, Johnny Weir, was next to last as he skated a very clean, precise, and perfectly executed program that was qualified and adhered to Olympic figure skating standards. He did not go all “Lady Gaga” and flamboyant on his routine. I admired that he meant business during his Olympic experience. Unfortunately the judges were underwhelmed by his performance overall. He ended up placing where he was before at 6th place. Last but never least, the favorite going into the free skate was none other than the Olympic champion from Torino, Yevgeny Plushenko. An intimidating force if ever there was. He came out on the ice packing all the required elements into the first half of his performance.
NBC’s commentators kept stating throughout the night if the skaters added the difficult jumps in the second half there was a 10% bonus added onto their final score. One of the jumps Plushenko did he almost fell out of it. There were a few times he showed off some suggestive hip action directed toward the audience that was definitely out of place. Once his program was over Yevgeny Plushenko awaited his score. The tension was overwhelming to find out if he’d win his back-to-back Olympic Gold medals or if Lysacek would become the first American skater to win the gold since Brian Boitano in 1988, coincidentally enough in Canada. When the score was posted and later announced Evan Lysacek became the first American skater, who is the reigning World Champion, to win the Gold medal since 1984 when Scott Hamilton last accomplished this uncommon feat. Coincidentally, Scott Hamilton is one of NBC’s Figure Skating commentators. It was a remarkable evening for a historic win for Evan Lysacek, a rare treat for the USA.