By Beverley Smith, The Globe and Mail
VANCOUVER – Evgeni Plushenko blinked.
When the Russian finished the men’s long program Thursday night, he held both arms aloft in triumph, making the No. 1 sign with both hands.
However, the judges didn’t quite agree.
They gave the Russian the silver medal, awarding the gold to reigning world champion Evan Lysacek of the United States, who won by only 1.31 points. When the placements jumped onto the scoreboard, the crowd roared wildly, and a great number of them began to chant: “USA! USA!”
For the first time in six Olympic Games, a Russian or Soviet did not win the men’s gold medal. Lysacek broke the stronghold. He also broke a longstanding jinx of reigning world champions being unable to win at the next Olympics.
Daisuke Takahashi of Japan earned the bronze medal with the most expressive performance of all.
Patrick Chan, of Toronto, moved up to fifth from seventh place. The 19-year-old was driven by the crowd’s roar, but he made just enough miscues to keep him off the podium.
Vaughn Chipeur, of Edmonton, the Canadian silver medalist, was 23rd.
“I was a bit disappointed to be honest, after I got off my ending position,” Chan said. “I might not have looked the happiest person. At the Olympics, after seeing all these Canadians with the gold medal, I wanted to do a perfect program without mistakes, it didn’t happen. But it’s not many people who get a medal at their first Olympics.”
Chan said the best part was the Canadian crowd, who roared as soon as he appeared on ice, and roared again when he landed his first element, a triple Axel- double toe loop.
“It makes me realize how proud I am to be Canadian,” he said.
When the marks first came up, Chan said he felt like he let the audience down. “Because I didn’t give a great performance.”
Chan stepped out of a triple Lutz, and fell on a triple Axel. But he sailed on to 241.42 points, just ahead of Johnny Weir of the United States, who got a loud standing ovation. The judges were loudly booed when he was placed sixth, but he had missed some crucial points.
Plushenko skated cautiously and had to fight for the landings on many of his jumps. His choreography wasn’t so hot either. He needed someone like Kurt Browning for advice. Plushenko’s people had gone several times to Browning to ask him to do the Russian’s programs, but Browning had refused, saying he didn’t know what to do with him, and he wasn’t the right person.
Lysacek went for the gusto, as always. Both he and Chan share the same choreographer, Lori Nichol.
“In the end, they still love me as much as they did [as] if I had done a great program,” Chan said. “I love Vancouver for that. And I’ll always remember Vancouver and the people here for that.”
Chan was disappointed because he had done clean programs in practice and his expectations had risen. After the marks came up, he saw he got huge marks for footwork. “that’s what I love to do,” he said. “It’s not jumps.”
It was a miserable Olympics for 2007 world champion Brian Joubert, who continued to fumble after being only 18th in the short program. Overall, after his long program Thursday, he finished 16th.
He fell on his first quadruple toe loop, scaled a second one down to a triple, flipped out of a triple Axel, put a hand down on a triple Lutz, and did only simple moves in his footwork sequences.
Joubert isn’t waiting around for the closing ceremonies. He said afterwards that he’s heading home Friday to regroup. He’ll have a test of his readiness and federation president Didier Gailhaguet will decide if he continues on to the world championships in Turin next month. If he’s not ready, he said, the French federation will send somebody else.
Joubert admitted he hasn’t been a happy man. Before, he was relaxed when he was on the ice, and wanted to skate for fun. But he changed his approach, he said, wanting to control everything himself. Joubert stopped listening to his mother, his coach and his federation. “I’m just 25 years old,” he said sadly. “I don’t know anything about life.”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press – online report here
VANCOUVER – The huge grin that seems a permanent fixture on Patrick Chan‘s face was nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by a look of bewilderment when his short program came to an end.
Russian star Evgeni Plushenko made his return to the Olympic arena in stunning fashion by finishing first in the men’s short program Tuesday, while Chan, the young Canadian with medal potential, faltered in a jam-packed men’s field at the Pacific Coliseum.
It was the poise that comes with a veteran’s experience, and not the high-flying quad, that proved the difference on this night for Plushenko, and now the 19-year-old Chan finds himself having to battle back from seventh place when he steps onto the ice for the long program Thursday.
“I’m really lost, I seriously got off the ice and I couldn’t believe what I had just done,” Chan said. “I pictured it in my mind just right, every step of the way… it’s OK, Thursday will be a new day.”
Skating to “Tango de los Exilodos”, Chan was unable to deliver the flawless routine he needed to keep pace with Plushenko and finished with a disappointing score of 81.12. He didn’t fall, but bobbled on his opening triple Axel, had an uncharacteristic stumble during his step sequence, where he normally garners huge marks, and received a one-point deduction for a going too long on his music.
Now the Toronto native, who arrived in Vancouver under huge pressure to deliver Canada’s first Olympic gold in men’s figure skating, will have to be flawless in the free skate and will need some of his competitors to falter to have a chance at the podium. He plans to channel his inner Apolo Anton Ohno, the U.S. short-track speedskater and six-time Olympic medallist whose trademark is to hang back and attack at the finish.
“It’s great to be an underdog, and kind of being out of people’s way, and just sitting back and watching,” Chan said. “It’s like Apolo Ohno, when he’s on the short-track, sitting back in last place until the last minute and then just comes in, that’s the technique I’m going to be picturing, just sitting back and enjoying it, and then attack.”
Plushenko, gold medallist at the 2006 Olympics and runner-up in 2002, opened with a quad toe-loop, triple toe-loop combination, scoring 90.85 for his “Concierto de Aranjuez” program, less than a year after coming out of a three-year retirement for one last shot at Olympic glory. A victory by the 27-year-old Plushenko, a six-time European champion, would make him the first men’s skater to repeat as Olympic champion in 58 years.
“I’ve made history already because I am back, and I didn’t skate three-and-a-half years… and not bad skate here today,” Plushenko said. “It gets more difficult with each Olympic Games, with each competition it gets more complex, with each season. It’s not because I’m getting older, more mature, it’s because you have to prove yourself again. Again, you have to prove yourself with your skating that you can do it.”
Evan Lysacek of the United States, the reigning world champion, was second with a score of 90.30. Skating a flawless routine to Igor Stravinski’s “Firebird”, an emotional Lysacek was punching his fists in the air on his final spin, then covered his face after his skate as the crowd gave him an ovation.
Daisuke Takahashi of Japan was third, earning 90.25 points with his expressive performance to “Eye” by Coba. Neither Lysacek or Takahashi attempted a quad.
Vaughn Chipeur of Edmonton scored 57.22 with a shaky performance, stepping out of a triple toe-loop, and stumbling on his serpentine step sequence. He earned the last qualifying spot for the free skate, finishing 24th.
Chipeur said he had trouble keeping his nerves in check.
“You can’t simulate that at home, you can’t simulate the crowd and competition environment,” he said. “I just think that the adrenalin and the nerves, you’re in the moment, but it’s so hard to analyze what you’re doing when you’re doing it, so you fight for what you do, and sometimes it doesn’t quite go as planned.”
Tuesday’s disappointing skate was simply the latest glitch on a tumultuous season for Chan, who had a bad bout of the flu in September, tore his calf a couple of weeks later, which kept him off the ice for several weeks and out of all but two competitions this season. Then, just a month from the Olympics, his coach Don Laws announced he was dumping the 19-year-old skater.
He admitted he had some trouble focusing in the short program.
“A little bit, skating into the triple Axel a little bit overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s like going into focus and out of focus, you’re on that fine line, that’s just a matter of me learning.
“I’m still pretty young, Tiger Woods is a good example, when he goes out and plays, I’m pretty sure he’s in that focused zone like this,” he added, snapping his fingers. “That’s one thing I have to learn is getting into that zone and staying in that zone.”
Johnny Weir finished sixth with 82.10 points, but what the crowd-pleasing American lacked in points, he made up for in style. Wearing a flamboyant black translucent corset-like suit adorned with pink lacing, Weir skated a confident routine that engaged the crowd. After his skate, he blew a kiss and took a couple of bows before picking up a black, heart-shaped pillow with his name embroidered in pink.
“My goal for this whole competition has been to show people my heart and take them on a journey with me and make them feel like they’re with me, they can feel me skating,” Weir said.
Weir arrived in Vancouver amidst a fur flap, drawing the ire of animal rights group PETA for wearing a small patch of fox fur on his costume at the U.S. championships. Weir feared for his safety after receiving death threats, and so opted to stay in the athletes village rather than outside the village as he’s originally planned.
Former world champion Brian Joubert of France was one of the nights biggest disappointments, stepping out of his quad to-loop and falling on his triple Lutz, putting himself in an impossible position to keep up with the leaders. He was 18th after a score of 68.00.
In a field in which eight men could realistically win the title, the quad jump has polarized the field, with big jumpers such as Plushenko — known as the “Quad King” — on one side, and more well-rounded artistic skaters such as Chan on the other.
Plushenko’s coach Alexei Mishin criticized the skaters without the quad.
“Some skaters and coaches are explaining this is a new era, we don’t need quad, we need clean skating with triple jumps,” Mishin said. “I think that they are wrong, because skating without quad is a time before (Canadian Elvis) Stojko, before (Alexei) Urmanov, … Those who are not able to jump, don’t make fake explanation, because this is a shame to skate without quad, when Stojko skated 10 years before and did it.”
Plushenko has admitted he doesn’t do the transitional elementsbetween and before jumps that are crucial under the new judging system, and which Chan does so well — Plushenko said he’d rather focus on his jumps.
“I don’t care today about the transitions or the scoring system,” Plushenko said Tuesday. “All I care about is that I did today my clean program. That’s really important for me because it’s my third Olympic Games, and I skated not bad. I’m going to take any result in this Olympic Games, any result, even fourth, third, second. Of course I’m going to try my best.”
Skate Canada officials, meanwhile, had their sight set on three medals in Vancouver, with ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir arguably the country’s top hope for a podium performance. Reigning world silver medallist Joannie Rochette will battle for a medal in women’s singles.