By Sonia Oxley
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Olympic figure skating champion Evan Lysacek hit out at Russian Yevgeny Plushenko on Friday for discrediting his rivals and tainting the American's gold medal moment with a bitter rant.
Silver medalist Plushenko said the American was "not a true champion" as he had won without performing a difficult quadruple jump, which requires great height and pace to make at least four mid-air rotations. The Russian did two in Vancouver.
Even Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has weighed in on the subject, saying his silver was worth gold after Plushenko blasted the sport for being like "dancing" rather than figure skating.
"I guess I was a little disappointed that someone who was my role model would take a hit at me in probably one of the most special moments of my life that I'll never forget, regardless of what anyone said there," Lysacek told a news conference.
"For him to discredit the field is not right, it's probably the strongest field there has ever been."
Lysacek, who said he had not yet been to sleep or taken off his medal, was diplomatic about the debacle which has raised questions about the fairness of the judging system.
"It's tough to lose, especially when you think that no matter what you are going to win," said the American, caressing his gleaming medal.
"It's a really tough pill to swallow and I'm sure he said stuff in the heat of the moment that maybe he doesn't mean so we'll just try to not take it out of context and give him the benefit of the doubt.
"Congratulations to him on a third Olympic medal."
While Plushenko, the 2006 champion who also won silver in 2002, avoided publicly congratulating his rival after Thursday's free skate, Lysacek said they had shaken hands and the Russian had spoken to him in private.
The debate over the quad has split the skaters at these Games, with many like bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi agreeing with Plushenko that it was a vital part of the sport.
Owing to figure skating's very subjective nature, athletes have often said it is hard to know what judges are actually looking for but Thursday's result suggested it might be an all-round performance rather than one show-stopping moment. "Different countries sometimes interpret the rules differently," said Lysacek.
"In the U.S. we get some sort of unwritten rules that are explained to us from judges ... and maybe he (Plushenko) got different information than I got."
"I don't think they would love to see me there to be honest, if I could somehow get a visa into that country," he smiled.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)