Move over, Kobe. A new world champion just rocked your house.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd in his adopted hometown, Evan Lysacek won the title at the World Figure Skating Championships on Thursday night, the first by an American man in 13 years. And he did it with the passion and flair the folks at the Staples Center usually see from Bryant, pounding his fists like he was banging on a drum before he'd even finished his final spin.
"This whole event, I knew it was going to be special because I always loved skating in this building. It's such an electric building and the people of L.A. have been so supportive. I just wanted to do well for them tonight," he said. "To get out there and perform the way that I imagined it hundreds of times and visualized in my head, I couldn't have asked for anything more.
"I'll never forget this incredibly special experience."
Neither will anyone who saw him skate.
Lysacek was devastated by the tentative, restrained performance that cost him a third straight title at the U.S. championships, and a week spent with choreographer Lori Nichol earlier this month reminded him to let loose and skate with abandon and joy. He set the tone for his "Rhapsody in Blue" program with his very first element, a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination he landed with confidence and security. He did eight triples in all, including a triple flip as part of a three-jump combination.
But it was his showmanship that won over the crowd _ and the judges.
While other skaters look like they're checking things off element by element, he flowed from one trick to the next. His spins were quick and so perfectly centered he could have drilled a hole through the ice, and his footwork was wonderfully expressive, matching the lightness and playfulness of the music.
The audience was caught up in his emotion, a roar of applause rising as he danced across the ice in his footwork that led into that final spin.
"Well, tonight I wasn't thinking about winning, I wasn't even thinking about medaling," Lysacek said. "I just wanted to skate well for my hometown crowd of L.A."
Making it even more impressive: He did it with a bum foot.
Lysacek had downplayed the injury all week, but finally admitted afterward he has a stress fracture in his left foot. It kept him from doing a quadruple jump, and had limited the number of toe loops and salchows he could do leading up to the event. Eventually, he'll have to get it treated.
"It sounds so bad but it's really not that bad," he said.
When you're a world champion, all is good.
"We were not really expecting this," longtime coach Frank Carroll said. "It really was our desire to just come here and skate clean."
Brian Joubert had bigger goals in mind and, had he skated cleanly, the 2007 world champion would have another gold medal.
He began well, landing a spot-on quadruple toe loop and a triple axel-triple toe combination. Then things fell apart. He stepped out of a second triple axel, and had to put his hands down. He did four more triple jumps but when he went to do a double axel _ a jump he's been doing since his novice days _ he belly-flopped. He overrotated the jump and tripped over his toes, falling on his stomach and nearly sliding into the wall.
Just like that, the gold medal was gone. Silver, too. Joubert wound up as the bronze medalist behind Canada's up-and-comer Patrick Chan, who caused a dustup earlier this week when he criticized Joubert for comments the Frenchman has made about the importance of the quad.
"I have to use this world championship to be better for next season," said Joubert, who looked shocked and pulled at his hair after he finished his program. "It's not so bad. I won the bronze medal but, like I said, it was a practice for the Olympic Games. I just want to be Olympic champion."
Chan would have been happy with any color medal. He is just 18 _ barely, his birthday was Dec. 31 _ and this was only his second appearance at worlds. But he has the skills and the steely confidence of someone much older.
The first of the top contenders to skate, he punctuated his routine with exquisite footwork. Early in his program, he went a minute between jumps and those step sequences seemed to last just seconds. He also threw in seven triples and was not penalized much for cutting a triple loop to a double.
"I'm going to use the same approach (next year) as I did to this season because it seemed to work: just having fun and take everything as a teenager because I am a teenager," Chan said. "A lot of these guys take it so seriously they're ripping their hair out. Me, it's more like hey, this beats going to school."
The world title makes Lysacek the favorite heading into the Olympics; he was fourth in Turin, despite getting so sick he needed an IV between the short program and the free skate. But the Vancouver Games are months away. For now he'll savor this title, the first for a U.S. man since Todd Eldredge in 1996.
When it was time for the medals ceremony, Lysacek sprinted onto the ice, and he shook his head when he climbed the podium as if he couldn't believe that top spot was his. He slapped every hand he saw on his victory lap, stopping several times to exchange hugs with fans in the rinkside seats, including 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi.
"I feel this cosmic connection to skaters, the strong skating history of the U.S, and I think that's kind of cool," said Lysacek, who had won bronze medals at the 2005 and '06 world championships.
Also cool is that Lysacek and Brandon Mroz (ninth) guaranteed the Americans will have three spots again at the Vancouver Olympics. U.S champion Jeremy Abbott was 11th after a disappointing week.
"I'm proud of our team, I'm really proud," Lysacek said. "I will not go into Vancouver as an individual. I'll go in as a proud member of Team USA."
And as world champion.
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