VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After the skate of his life, Evan Lysacek had to wait for what seemed like forever to find out what it was worth.
The result: Olympic gold.
Lysacek stunned defending champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia at the Vancouver Games on Thursday night, becoming the first American man to win figure skating gold since Brian Boitano 22 years ago. Plushenko was so sure he’d won that he held up both index fingers after his free skate.
But Lysacek soon was holding up the medal Plushenko came out of retirement to chase.
“I was able to go out and skate the program the way I wanted to,” said Lysacek, the reigning world champ who went first in the final group. “I’m ecstatic with it.
“I saw that American flag go up, and I couldn’t believe it was for me.”
Believe it. And believe that Lysacek, without a quad, outpointed Plushenko at the Russian’s strength, the technical marks, which was a sore point with the runner-up.
“I was positive that I won,” Plushenko said through a translator. “But I suppose Evan needs a medal more than I do. Maybe it’s because I already have one.
“But I have to share with you, two silver and one Olympic gold medal is not too bad.”
Plushenko also won silver in 2002 and is the only man with three Olympic medals; Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden won four from 1920-32.
Diasuke Takahashi took the bronze, the first figure skating medal for a Japanese man.
Lysacek won with a career-best 257.67 points, 1.31 ahead of the Russian, who skated last — about a half-hour after Lysacek finished.
The other Americans, Johnny Weir and Jeremy Abbott, finished sixth and ninth.
“It’s so special, and to join names like Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, just like some of my idols in the sport and people that have given me so much inspiration, you know, it’s an honor,” Lysacek said during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Friday.
Lysacek edged Plushenko on the mark for their technical elements: jumps, spins and footwork. That’s the score which Plushenko, also a three-time world champion, has pretty much owned.
“Plushenko was brilliant in the jumping. He did some brilliant, very difficult things,” explained Frank Carroll, Lysacek’s coach. “But if you think of his skating, he was very brilliant, then down. And very brilliant, then down. It was going in waves. Evan just sort of stayed in a straight line and kept going at a certain level from the start to the finish.”
Even more surprising, particularly to the perplexed Plushenko: Lysacek won without doing that so-called all-important quadruple jump.
“If the Olympic champion doesn’t know how to jump a quad, I don’t know,” Plushenko said. “Now it’s not men’s figure skating, now it’s dancing.”
Lysacek felt his program was strong enough that he didn’t need a quadruple jump.
“I knew that the base of my program was really strong, and with the jumps and spins added and combine that total, I would be OK,” Lysacek said on Friday. “... Of course, I questioned it at times and thought maybe I should go for it. It’s the Olympics, but at the same time, I still had a really difficult program and I was happy with the way I performed it.”
Plushenko left the ice soon after the medals ceremony, even while Lysacek and Takahashi were still celebrating. He took the silver medal off from around his neck as he exited the rink.
Lysacek wasn’t letting go of his medal so quickly. After holding his right hand on his heart while the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, he clutched the prize in his left hand during his victory lap.
Then someone handed Lysacek a U.S. flag. He waved it a few times before twirling it above his head like a lasso. Then he wore it like a scarf as headed backstage to continue the celebrations.
The 24-year-old champion recognized those celebrations meant just as much to the 71-year-old Carroll, who never coached an Olympic gold medalist. Carroll had coached Linda Fratianne and Michelle Kwan to silver medals and Timothy Goebel to a bronze.
“This is just frosting on the cake for me,” Carroll said. “It’s not something I coveted after a while. It was something I thought maybe would never happen.”
Lysacek made it happen with a flawless, if somewhat workmanlike performance — at least for the first three minutes of the program. His jumps had the control and dependability of a fine Swiss timepiece, and his spins were so well-centered you could see the tight little circle of his tracings clear across the ice.
His concentration never wavered, but there was little of the usual flair until after he landed his last jump, a double axel. Then, the pure joy Lysacek gets from skating burst free and enveloped those final moments. He was already exulting during his concluding spins.
The last note of his music was still fading when Lysacek pumped his fists and screamed, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” He clapped his hands and skated to center ice, throwing his arms out wide to the crowd and blowing kisses.
“This gold medal was not planned,” he said. “It was a dream come true.”
The 27-year-old Plushenko, who indicated he will keep competing, entertained the crowd with his usual dramatics during a saucy, seductive tango. He preened, posed and skated as if certain another gold medal was his.
It wasn’t his because the landings on jumps — of all things — were shaky, and he struggled with some spins and footwork.
“I knew I would accept any outcome,” he said. “After this defeat, I’m not going to put my hands down and stop.”
Takahashi had no issues with his placement.
Takahashi’s edge quality is as fine as a master carver’s and his blades are like little lightning strikes, allowing him to change directions and turn without losing a millisecond of speed.
It makes for a fast and energetic program, one he infused with a healthy dose of sass, playing to the judges and the crowd. If not for a fall on his opening quadruple toe loop, he might have finished higher.
“To be the first Japanese man to win an Olympic medal,” he said, “I am really proud.”