- Figure Skating
A decorated decade: Lysacek won medals, fans
There will be no defending his title, no making history, no raising his arms overhead and then burying his face in his hands in triumph and elation. Tuesday reigning Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek announced on TODAY that he will not compete at the Sochi Games, a hope he had saved for months as he battled injuries and setbacks.
It was over ten years ago that Lysacek made his debut at the U.S. Championships in Boston in 2001, placing an unassuming twelfth and leaving the Fleet Center in Boston unable to win a medal at Nationals until four years later, in 2005.
But in that time, Lysacek, who grew up in suburban Chicago and moved to Los Angeles in 2003, became a formidable force in figure skating, acquiring legendary coach Frank Carroll along the way and the added expectation of a nation with a storied figure skating past. And over the next five years, Lysacek became an international force, capping that period off with an Olympic gold medal.
Lysacek faced a series of injuries over the last few months, creating havoc in his training schedule and forcing him to withdraw from a two events, both of which would have allowed him to register a needed qualifying score for Sochi in February.
Over the course of his career - which he has yet to retire from - Lysacek has won Olympic gold, a World Championships gold medal (and two bronzes), two Four Continents titles, three Grand Prix crowns and the U.S. Championships twice, in 2007 and 2008. Here, we look back at the accomplishments that have helped Lysacek become one of the most successful American figure skaters of the last decade.
The Early Years
While Lysacek worked towards his senior skating skills, the teenager made inroads on the junior circuit, winning the silver medal at the World Junior Championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004 and topping the podium at the Junior Grand Prix Final in 2004, his final junior competition. It was that same year that Lysacek won his first medal at the senior level, a bronze at Four Continents.
Lysacek quit growing in this time as well, topping out at six-foot-two, extremely tall for a figure skater. Filling out, it was during this period that Lysacek settled more into his technical skills, finding his footing on the ice after years of growth spurts.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Evan Lysacek's most memorable moments
Evan vs. Johnny Rivalry
For much of the time between 2005 and the Vancouver Games, Lysacek was engaged in an ongoing battle on the ice – and off of it – with peer Johnny Weir. Weir, a year older than Lysacek, won the U.S. title three years running into the 2006 Torino Games. Lysacek, meanwhile, placed fifth, third and second during those three years.
But at the Torino Olympics, Weir was in second place after the short program and Lysacek in tenth, only to see Evan finish above his rival: Lysacek finished fourth overall after a third-place performance in the free skate. Weir ended fifth overall.
In 2007, Lysacek won the first of two straight national titles, Weir finishing third and second, respectively, over those two years. Their final showdowns would come in 2010, when Jeremy Abbott won Nationals, Lysacek placing second and Weir third. At the Olympics, Weir’s performances were strong, but couldn’t catapult him onto the podium, finishing sixth while Lysacek launched himself to historic gold.
Rising to the Top
Vaulted by his national titles in 2007 and 2008, Lysacek arrived at the World Championships in 2009 in Los Angeles in front of a partial crowd having made Southern California his de facto home and delivered two consistent performances to notch his first – and only – Worlds gold medal. That win set the stage for Lysacek to be one of the favorites at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Lysacek became the first reigning world champion to win the Olympic gold medal since American Scott Hamilton had done so in 1984. He trailed 2006 Torino Olympics champion Yevgeny Plushenko by just over half of a point after the short program in Vancouver, but delivered a clean-as-a-whistle free skate, scraping by Plushenko for the top of the podium.
It was a victory that the Russian questioned, seeing that Lysacek did not land (nor attempt) a quad jump during the competition. Yet the American edged out Plushenko in the spin and step elements, giving him a margin of victory of just over one point and making him the third man (along with Reussia’s Alexei Yagudin) to hold the Olympic, World Championship and Grand Prix Final gold medals all at once.
Lysacek called coach Carroll his “secret weapon,” saying he was proud to win Frank his first gold medal in Carroll's tenth trip to the Olympics alongside a skater.
Embedded video_content_type: Evan Lysacek's brilliant free skate in Vancouver
A New Life
Lysacek said after winning Olympic gold that he wanted to keep competing, but that didn’t happen. The American didn’t skate at a single competition following Vancouver, making his free skate there his last to date.
In the spring of 2010, he was runner up on the reality TV show “Dancing With the Stars.” Lysacek made attempted comebacks in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but did not compete due to injuries (2011 and 2013) and a financial disagreement between him and U.S. Figure Skating (2012).
With the U.S. Championships back in Boston for the first time since Lysacek skated there in 2001, the American will not return to make a run at the Sochi team. Instead, his career - for now - has a golden finish in Vancouver, even though the skater has said he'd like to make a competitive return to the ice.
'I'm Going to Miss That'
The figure skating - and sporting community - has already offered an outpouring of well-wishes for Lysacek as he continues to recover from injury.
"There is something about Evan. His skating is so unique and powerful yet he was able to be the whole package," NBC figure skating analyst and 1998 gold medalist Tara Lipinski said. "As a person and a competitor and as a friend I admire him so much. He has such an incredible work ethic and he trained so, so hard. I respect that. I think that the quality he has really shines through in his personality, and I’m going to miss that on the ice in Sochi."
Max Aaron, the reigning U.S. champion and one of the hopefuls for the Sochi team, said he wishes he had gotten the chance to skate alongside Lysacek.
"Evan is someone that I’ve looked up to for years. I love the way he skates and the way that he jumps and the way that he grabs everyone’s attention in the crowd," Aaron said. "He means something more to me having done something so special for the sport. I’ve always thought of being on the ice with him."
Embedded video_content_type: Raising an Olympian: Evan Lysacek