Angela Still is an ex-Los Angeleno now living back in her birth state of Georgia. She’s working towards her MFA in Creative Writing and revising her first novel, a story about, love, revenge, and magic.
Evan Lysacek: Celebrity in … Esteem?
I write this on the same day Tiger Woods apparently gave a pretty lame and fake apology for cheating on his wife and making a mockery of the institution of marriage. I didn’t watch because I stopped giving a crap about that situation the second Elin stopped beating his no good lying ass with the golf club, but I heard about it. People talk.
I have, however, been watching the Olympics all week, as well as the winners’ interviews with Bob Costas. Today, I saw something remarkable—a celebrity athlete acting with dignity and grace. I give you Evan Lysacek.
I didn’t know Evan Lysacek existed before Tuesday night, when I first saw him skate his short program in the men’s figure skating competition. I do not follow men’s figure skating, but I do manage to get addicted to the Olympics every year, and I enjoy the figure skating, men’s and women’s. Tuesday night, Evan Lysacek was not the focus. Evgeni Plushenko was. There was a funny little segment where NBC followed him around Russia, even rode with him in his Mercedes. He seemed as if he were a likable enough guy. A little cocky, sure, a little swaggery, yes, but also playful and a little silly. Likable.
After watching his program, there was no denying he was extremely talented, as well. He had the goods to back up the pomp. He skated around with the confidence of a champion, which he is. He went first, and I have to say, most of the other skaters paled in comparison. The only two who even came close were Lysacek and Daisuke Takahashi, the amazing skater from Japan who placed third. The top three scores were less than a second apart.
The big difference was how Lysacek reacted to his finish. He pumped his fists, threw his hands to the heavens, cried out with glee. It was obvious that he was a man who had worked, and worked hard, and was enjoying the results immensely. His reactions smacked of humble satisfaction at a job well done. It was moving to watch. I got a little teary, I admit it.
Plushenko’s reaction was everything one could expect from the short glimpse we’d seen into the man himself. He held his hands out to the crowd in the international “What can I say?” gesture of lovable braggarts everywhere. He had that mythic gleam of mischief in his eye. He was cute, despite the mullet. I have no issue with people knowing they are good at something. Plushenko knows he is good, he knew he’d put down a strong program, and he, in his own way, was just as happy and relieved as Lysacek, if infinitely more cocky. It was still impossible not to like him.
So I tuned in to the long program on Thursday night. Lysacek went first this time, and he laid down a pretty close to flawless program. How close? So close that even an ice skating idiot like myself could recognize the skill and artistry involved, sort of like the one time I watched a Chicago Bulls game back when Michael Jordan was at his heyday. I think when someone does something brilliantly, the perfection speaks for itself because it sets that someone so far apart from his peers. It is effortless and beautiful. Lysacek achieved this state of grace with his long program.
Plushenko, on the other hand, did not. He was great, sure, he made a hard sell of the routine, with lots of big arm gestures and even a kiss blown to the judges, but you could see the guy working at every jump and turn. He bobbled all over the place. There was no flow like in his short program. Only the cockiness followed him to Thursday night. In the end, he beat his chest, tossed his head back in the air like a royal scion looking down on the commoners, certain he had won.
In the aftermath, I think we see the real natures of both men. While Plushenko has been dissing Lysacek to the media, basically stomping his feet and pouting, Lysacek has not retaliated. During his interview with Bob Costas, Lysacek had nothing but the highest praise for Plushenko’s talent. He even cited Plushenko as one of his role models. When confronted with some of the quotes from Plushenko regarding Lysacek’s inability to perform the quad and his winning the gold turning the sport into nothing more than a dancing competition, Lysacek responded coolly and calmly with pretty solid back-up; the judges scorecards. Plushenko thought Lysacek won based on the artistry of his routine, while the judges awarded both skaters almost identical scores for artistry. It was Lysacek’s jumping scores that won him the medal. But Lysacek did not use this information like a bludgeon, he did not deliver it with snark, but with a matter of factness that was lovely to watch. He never shot back at Plushenko, never tried to defend himself with anything other than the facts.
Wow. An athlete behaving with dignity. Who’d a thunk it?
Bottom line—Plushenko took three and half years off from an ever changing and expanding sport. He came back and thought all he had to do was land a couple half way decent quads and then walk away with a gold medal. Lysacek, on the other hand, practiced nonstop (his coach was quoted as having said he had to force the guy to stop practicing), and while he wanted to win a medal, his main goal was to do as well as he possibly could. I’m not saying Plushenko didn’t practice hard. He must have. But Lysacek won, fair and square. Because he worked on his program entire. Worked on it until it was a cohesive whole rather than a few big tricks.
And then he won all over again by not acting like a jerk. Thank you, Evan. Thank you.