It wasn't that Plushenko, the defending Olympic champion, imploded. Far from it. In addition to his quad, he landed all seven of his triple jumps, completed all his spins, stayed on his feet, mugged and preened for the judges, and showed the supreme confidence that borders on arrogance -- which is his trademark. "I was positive that I won," he said afterward. "It's always difficult to skate last, but it was not a bad skate." Nor was it that the judges docked Plushenko for his lack of artistry, a subject that had been roundly debated the first week of the Games. The fact is, both Lysacek and the Russian scored exactly 82.80 in program component scores -- the five marks that reflect a skater's artistic merit.
No, Plushenko lost in his bid to become the first man since DickButton ('48, '52) to repeat as Olympic champion, because Lysacek, who had skated confidently all week, wrested the gold away from him. The first of the final six to skate, the 24-year-old Lysacek, who grew up in Naperville, Illinois, landed eight triple jumps while exhibiting the sort of showy footwork, fast spins, and crackling energy and emotion that make him a complete package. The judges rewarded him with a score of 167.37 points, the highest mark given out this year for a free skate. It made Lysacek's remarks after his Wednesday practice look uncannily prescient. Asked what it would take to catch Plushenko, who led him by .55 after the short program: "He has one major advantage over everyone, and that's the Olympic gold medal. He has the power mentally because he has what we all want. And so I think it's going to take some mighty fine skating to get that power away from him."
Lysacek had done his part. "That was my best free program of the season," he said later. "I was ecstatic. To do your best when it counts the most...." When eventual bronze medalist DaisukeTakahashi, Japan's first men's medalist in figure skating, fell on his opening quadruple toe loop, and fellow American JohnnyWeir skated a lukewarm, if not clean, sixth-place free skate, it left only Plushenko between Lysacek and the gold.
Only Plushenko! The man without nerves. The star who had come out of a three-year retirement and then blown away everyone he'd skated against this year, landing his quadruple jumps with the ease of a turtle sliding off a log. And making it clear that he believed no man, in 2010, should even be considered for Olympic gold if he didn't do a quadruple jump. "Without the quad, it's not men's figure skating," he said dismissively after the short program, in which he was the only one of the leaders to land a quad-triple combination.
Plushenko was supposed to open his program with a three jump combination: a quadruple toe-triple toe-double loop. But he left out the last of those three jumps. Still, his opening salvo scored an impressive 14.60, which was 3.20 higher than Lysacek's best combination jump: a triple lutz-triple toe. Then things started to unravel ever so slightly for the 27-year-old Russian. His triple axel was downgraded; and his flying sit spin was judged a level three degree of difficulty (Lysacek's was level four). His spins were slow; his footwork looked more like armwork; and he was just able to rescue an off-axis triple lutz-double toe combination late in his program, reducing its points. As he blew a kiss to the judges at the end of his program -- there was something almost smarmy in the gesture -- it was clear to the 11,689 who were packed in the Pacific Coliseum, that the defending champion, on this night, had been bested. It remained to be seen if the judges would see it the same way.
When Plushenko's score flashed on the board, a gasp grew to a roar as the pro-Lysacek crowd realized the American had won, breaking a string of five straight wins for Russian men in the Olympics. Lysacek outscored him by 1.31 points, 257.67 to 256.36, and it was on the strength of his technical marks: 84.57 in the freeskate, compared to 82.71 for Plushenko. The artistic skater had bested the technician at his own game.
The sub-text of Lysacek's memorable and surprising win was that his coach, Frank Carroll, at long last had his Olympic champion. One of the most popular and respected men in figure skating, Carroll had suffered a string of Olympic disappointments going back to 1980, when Linda Fratianne finished second to Anett Potzsch. Others who failed to bring home Olympic gold for him were Christopher Bowman, Tim Goebel, and, especially, Michelle Kwan, who twice went in as the overwhelming favorite, and both times was upset. Lysacek was well aware of the history. "My coach was with me all day today, and he told me what to think," Lysacek said. "It's hard when you're in second place after the short not to think about a medal, and this morning it all just hit me. It was almost overwhelming. He told me: 'Listen, you could do your best tonight, and it still might not be the best. But that doesn't change your job. Your job is to do every step of your program to the best of your ability, just like you do in practice. That's all you need to think about.' Frank is a real master of psychology. You can't win until you learn how to win. And he taught me how to win.
"We make a pretty good team. He was standing right behind me when the scores came up, and he was the first person I thought of when I won."