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Evan Lysacek edges Yevgeny Plushenko to figure skating gold

By Pritha Sarkar

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - American Evan Lysacek ended favorite Yevgeny Plushenko's imperious reign as Olympic champion with a spell-binding free skate on Thursday to clinch the men's figure skating gold.

Russian Plushenko had been swaggering around all week with the air of a man who had already won gold, but Lysacek wowed the judges with an artistic performance to Sheherazade that brought the roaring crowd to their feet.

Unlike Plushenko, he did not attempt any quadruple jumps in his routine but was handsomely rewarded for his wobble-free jumps and his exquisite choreography.

His score of 257.67 eclipsed Plushenko by 1.31 points. Daisuke Takahashi won Japan's first medal in the event when he finished third despite falling over on his quad.

"I had so much fun tonight. I love this crowd, I love this ice, it was definitely my best. Mission accomplished. I was feeling more relaxed after the first jump," Lysacek told reporters as he jumped up and down backstage when Plushenko's score of 256.36 flashed up.

"I couldn't have asked for much more than that. To get a personal best in the most important moment of my life, you dream about it."

Lysacek wiped away 22 years of hurt with the performance of his life.

GOOD AND EVIL

The American, the first of the main medal contenders to skate, took to the ice after being given a pep talk by his coach Frank Carroll and with two black and white crystal-encrusted snakes -- representing good and evil -- around his neck sparkling under the floodlights.

As soon as he landed his opening triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination, he closed his eyes in relief and then flew through his routine which featured 12 jumps, including seven in combination.

As he started his final spin, he had already started to punch the air even before the final notes of his music had finished. He closed his eyes and punched the air five times with clenched fists as he shouted "yes, yes, yes, yes, yes".

However, he still had to wait for Plushenko.

The Russian drew gasps as he wobbled on the landing of his triple Axel. He performed 11 jumps, but also had another snatched landing midway through his display.

Plushenko clearly thought he had won, ending his final spin by blowing a kiss into the camera before holding aloft his two gloved index fingers high into the air.

Despite being dethroned, the cocky Russian would not give up the spotlight. As his name was called for the silver medal, he leapfrogged over the gold medalist's podium to take his place on the lower platform.

(Editing by Miles Evans)

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