VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Time and again, Evan Lysacek was grilled about Evgeni Plushenko slamming his performance and quibbling about the quad, how even government leaders in Russia are crying foul over the finish in the men's final. Time and again, Lysacek sidestepped the bickering.
Nothing the American said would be better than the answer hanging around his neck.
"All I know is he's been really positive to me and been a really consistent skater through the years, and I've tried to learn from that," Lysacek said Friday morning, still basking in the glow of his Olympic gold medal. "I guess I'm a little disappointed someone who I saw as my role model would take a hit at me in one of the most special moments of my life.
"It's tough to lose. It's not easy, especially when you think, no matter what, you're going to win. It's a really tough pill to swallow," he added. "We'll just try not to take it out of context and give him the benefit of the doubt. And congratulations to him on his third Olympic medal."
Lysacek became the first American man since Brian Boitano to win the Olympic gold Thursday night, taking down reigning champ Plushenko in the process.
Though Lysacek is the world champion, it was an upset the likes of which figure skating rarely sees. Plushenko, who ended a three-year retirement with the sole goal of winning gold, hadn't finished anywhere but first since the 2004 European championships. He was the defending Olympic gold medalist and silver medalist in 2002, and a three-time world champion.
And Plushenko had the all-important quad, the four-revolution jump that's been a must-have for every Olympic men's champion since Ilia Kulik in 1998.
"Quad is quad. If the Olympic champion doesn't know how to jump the quad, I don't know," Plushenko sniffed afterward. "Now it's not men's figure skating, it's dancing. That's my point."
Yet Lysacek beat the Russian — handily. Lysacek's career-best 257.67 points was 1.31 better than Plushenko. Even more grating to the Russian's camp, Lysacek beat Plushenko on the technical mark, the score for jumps, spins and footwork that's practically been his personal property.
Though Lysacek said Plushenko congratulated him and Plushenko himself said later he was satisfied with his silver — only one male figure skater, Sweden's Gillis Grafstrom, has more Olympic medals — others weren't quite so restrained. This is, after all, figure skating, and no Olympics is complete without at least one juicy catfight.
One broadcaster at RTR, the state-owned Russian television, likened the result to the 2002 pairs scandal in Salt Lake City, where the judging shenanigans were so bad duplicate gold medals were awarded. Another called Plushenko the "the real champion." Even Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin weighed in, sending Plushenko a message Friday saying his performance was worth gold.
But Lysacek refused to join in the war of words.
"All I could do is stay true to myself and go in with the formula I believed in and believed would work for me," he said. "Each step wasn't planned to win this gold medal. It was to have a personal victory and to have the skate of my lifetime at the most important moment. My goal and my plan was to skate the way I skated and leave the rest to the judges and not argue their choices, their scores — just accept them whatever they may have been."
Although Lysacek has done the quad before, he doesn't land it with the same consistency as Plushenko or Stephane Lambiel or Brian Joubert. He can't train it into the ground, either, because of the stress it puts on the left foot he broke last year. When he started feeling pain in the foot again after last month's U.S. championships, Lysacek decided it wasn't worth the risk of getting hurt and having to miss the games.
Better, he and longtime coach Frank Carroll decided, to pack the rest of the program with high-level steps, gorgeous spins and difficult entrances to his jumps. He also did five of his jumping passes — including two of his three combos — after the halfway point, pumping up his point total even further.
"It was just about accumulating points from start to finish," Lysacek said. "I did resist when my coach and choreographer wanted me to work on such simple steps — or to me, what seemed like such simple steps. But those little things were what made the difference so thank you to them for making me see what was really important."
Oh, and he landed (almost) all of his jumps cleanly, too.
Plushenko may have done the quad — and done it well enough. But he was so crooked in the air on most of his other jumps he looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Only his catlike instincts allowed him to pull off clean landings. Judges notice those funky finishes — especially when he was spraying enough ice chips to whitewash the mud up at Cypress Mountain.
"Each and every step we take is accumulating points, so I don't know why some people are hung up on one particular element. If it wasn't the quad, would people be hung up on a sit spin? Hung up on the camel? No," Lysacek said. "It's about the performance, and that's what makes our sport unique, what makes it emotional and dramatic for the audience members to watch."
And if people want to debate that, well, Lysacek doesn't much care.
His name will forever be linked with Boitano and Scott Hamilton, skaters he grew up idolizing. Oprah wanted a word with him Friday — several, actually — and potential sponsors had his agent's BlackBerry all abuzz. Although he still can't quite believe that big, shiny medal really is his, he's got a lifetime to let it sink in.
"It's hard to comprehend it's not just another competition, that it really is the Olympic Games and it's my moment," Lysacek said. "I'm ecstatic this is my destiny, and I've lived it out in almost a perfect way."
Asked whether he'll go for a second gold in Sochi four years from now, Lysacek smiled.
"I don't think they would love to see me there, to be quite honest," he said.