Lysacek clinches figure skating gold

By Pritha Sarkar

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

Unlike the Russian, he did not attempt any quadruple jumps but was handsomely rewarded for his wobble-free jumps, his exquisite footwork, transitions and artistry.

His score of 257.67 eclipsed Plushenko by 1.31 points, leaving the Russian to moan.

"An Olympic champion who doesn't know how to jump a quad, well I don't know.... it's not men's figure skating," he told reporters. "It's dancing."

Lysacek, who jumped up and down backstage when Plushenko's combined score of 256.36 flashed up, did not care what the Russian thought.

"I had so much fun tonight," he said. "I love this crowd, I love this ice, it was definitely my best. Mission accomplished. I was feeling more relaxed after the first jump.

"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."

Daisuke Takahashi won Japan's first medal in the event when he finished third with 247.23 despite falling over on his quad. Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel was fourth.

Lysacek wiped away 22 years of hurt, and Russian and Soviet domination, 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 lights.

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

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

LAST COMPETITOR

However, he still had to wait for Plushenko, the last competitor to skate.

Plushenko dropped the double loop from his opening quad-triple-double combination and drew gasps as he wobbled out of his triple Axel. He performed 11 jumps, but also had another snatched landing midway through his display.

The Russian 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 in the air.

Lysacek, the 2009 world champion, soon wiped the grin off Plushenko's face.

"I think we need to change the judging system, a quad is a quad," Plushenko continued to grumble, referring to the revamped judging system in which complex footwork, dizzying spins and artistic choreography can compensate for the lack of quads.

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

(Additional reporting by Sonia Oxley and Janet Guttsman, Editing by Ed Osmond)