Gold medallist Evan Lysacek of the USA, center, silver medallist Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, left, and bronze medallist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, right, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the men's figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (AP)

American wins! Russian pouts!

Lysacek wins gold dressed as General Zod, while his skating rival gripes about silver. Plus: Vonn! Half-pipe!


Heather Havrilesky
February 19, 2010 7:20PM (UTC)

Does evil usually triumph over good? What if evil is dressed like a sequined carnival barker? Does fabulousness and originality make good and evil look arcane and frumpy in their bad pants? These were the questions racing through the minds of rabid men's figure skating fans on Thursday night before the big event, but they would be made to wait until the end of the night to find out the answers.

In the meantime, they'd have to settle for the women's super combined: Julia Mancuso looks fantastic on the downhill just as she did on Wednesday, and then manages to nail the slalom, too. Anja Paerson, the Swedish skier who took a horrible fall in the women's downhill, is back today, incredibly enough. But first we have to watch her terrible fall again, gasping as she loses control in the air and then tumbles, bumping her head and getting beaten to a pulp by her own skis and poles and the icy hill beneath her.

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Time to fawn over Lindsey Vonn, who not only "dotted the I in Alpine" but who is also "a beguiling mix of fitness, beauty and grit." Can you imagine them referring to Apolo Ohno as "a beguiling mix of fitness, studliness, and grit"? Keep it in your pants, boys.

Unfortunately, the woman who dotted the i in Alpine also puts the "slam" in "slalom" when she hooks the tip of her right ski on a gate and falls. Poor Vonn! But that means Germany's Maria Riesch gets gold, Mancuso wins yet another silver, and Paerson, still in pain from her awful fall, is rewarded with bronze.

Now it's time for the women's snowboarding halfpipe final. For some reason instead of yelling "Monster run!" like they did for the men's final, the announcers are explaining the difference between front-side and back-side tricks. It's sort of helpful, sure, but also slightly irritating given the breathless enthusiasm of the men's event.

A word about NBC's coverage so far. Typically, I find Olympic broadcasts seriously aggravating: too much filler, events that are far too compressed or not compressed enough, endless bloviating and rhapsodizing by the announcers. I have to say that NBC has done a great job in Vancouver so far. I've been watching every night and each night has been dynamic, it's moved along at a good clip, and there's really just minimal blowhard drivel involved. Even the "up close" segments on the athletes have been smart, brief and carefully chosen (15 years ago, I swear these things took up most of the airtime).

Here's my big problem, though: The announcers rarely show their faces this year, and they often neglect to tell us who they are at the beginning of each event.

So we begin the women's snowboard halfpipe and American Gretchen Bleiler (who has "winning glamour" according to Costas) comes out with some huge air and the announcers (whoever they are) finally start yelling. Then she tries an inverted 720, which includes what looks like a back flip and is truly impressive, but she lands on her ass. Those tricks are the best we've seen, but can she nail it on her second run? Hannah Teter has a great run but no yelling. American Kelly Clark has some seriously big tricks but falls on the last one.

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Here comes Australian Torah Bright, who was reportedly "riding powder in the trees with her friends" and decided that, if she can do one back flip, why not try two? What planet are these female snowboarders from, anyway? Bright drops in first and pulls off a switch backside 720. "There are not many men who do this trick on their runs," says one of the announcers. She gets a 45 and now the pressure's on for everyone else.

Gretchen Bleiler needs a big run. She pulls off an incredible flipping trick, but then catches the nose of her board on the lip of the halfpipe and then falls straight down, and miraculously isn't hurt. She smiles and waves and her teeth are whiter than the snow. No medal, but, let's just be honest, her glamour is pretty winning.

American Elena Hight falls. Kelly Clark is next. She's singing along to her headphones, which the color guy refers to as "the Kelly Clark Karaoke." She adjusts her iPod. Still singing. Great run but "her landings weren't immaculate."

Even so, I really love how these snowboarders all shrug and smile when they fall. Again, what planet? Adventurous, glamorous, bruise your back but shrug it off and smile planet? A planet far from my own.

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For gold, this is going to have to be "literally the best run that Hannah [Teter] has ever put down in a halfpipe." She doesn't manage it, and settles for silver, and Clark gets bronze. Australian Torah Bright wins the gold!

Now it's time for the big event: men's gigure skating. Dick Button starts things off on a harshly patriotic foot by telling us that Evgeni "You need all the time fighting with your enemy" Plushenko lands his jumps "like a sledgehammer." Hey now, the sledgehammer-footed Russians love their children, too, Button!

We begin the free skate, and really, each program just feels interminable. Watching the snowboarding and then this really makes me wish that innovation was rewarded more in figure skating. Remember that brief period where they were doing back flips on the ice, but the judges didn't love it? What planet are figure skating judges from? A cold, dark planet of conformity and disapproval.

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We've got France's Flourent Amodio who's exceptionally fluid on the ice and I love the music. Uh-oh, but then the music changes and it's like some bad beat on a Casio mixed with piano. Suddenly I notice that he's wearing suspenders and has a tear painted on his face.

Canadian Patrick Chan looks solid, then stumbles out of a jump. That's it for him.

Czech Michal Brezina is dressed as a bedazzled golfer. He's doing an aw-shucks, old-timey, skip-to-my-lou themed routine. His hand motions say, "Golly gee, this pond is frozen solid!" Then he falls, flubs a bunch of jumps after that, and he's out of contention.

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Now it's time for a little hype: Plushenko growling in broken English, Lysacek fluttering his birdy hands in ecstasy after the short program. Scott Hamilton tells us that Lysacek almost crashed into Johnny Weir during the warm-up. The tension is building!

Lysacek takes to the ice wearing the evil alien villain garb from "Superman." But they're saying that General Zod isn't in the right frame of mind, based on what they saw during his warm-up. And it's true, he does stumble slightly after one jump, but otherwise he nails them, and ends with a double fist pump. (Doesn't General Zod do a double fist pump when he almost reigns victorious in "Superman II"?)

Poor Japanese skater Nobunari Oda stops in the middle of his program with a broken lace on his skate, Tonya Harding-style. Swiss skater Stephane Lambiel has one messy jump after another, but he makes up for it with his Disney prince costume and his gorgeous head of hair and his pretty boy skating. Meanwhile, Plushenko warms up behind the scenes by pretending to kick little animals in the face -- at least that's what his swinging legs and dead-eyed expression say to me, but maybe that's my Cold War childhood talking.

Johnny Weir is lacing up his boots. Tom Hammond tells us that Weir said, "I'm an Olympian, I'm a good athlete, I think people forget that because of my personality." Please oh please let Weir do well!

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Japan's Daisuke Takahashi steps onto the ice looking like a waiter at Long John Silver's, but after an early fall he lands jump after jump, and his skating is really beautiful.

Johnny Weir is wearing a dark ice angel outfit that's glittery and asymmetrical, but relatively subdued compared to the saucy bustier of his short program. Everyone agrees that he shouldn't do the quad, because it's too big of a risk. Coach Galina speaks to Weir in Russian, which I love. Then Weir glides out onto the ice and is as graceful as ever, and he opts out of doing his quad but lands every single jump. "That is the best he's ever been, ever!" shouts Scott Hamilton. Oh please let those evil judges from the icy planet Zanitar give him the great score that he so clearly deserves!

Not a chance! His score won't even place him in the top five. Are you kidding? The crowd boos the low score. Weir waves, looking happy to have skated his best. His mom is in tears. Weir ends up in sixth place, below Patrick Chan, who fell outright. Apparently originality and flair are like Kryptonite to the icy aliens on Zanitar. If only Superman could round up the judges and banish them to the Phantom Zone!

But speaking of General Zod, the only thing standing between Lysacek and a gold medal is Plushenko, who, dressed in a sequined faux-tie and faux-vest, looks like a carnival barker trapped in a gay disco. His routine is set to a menacing tango. He lands all of his jumps but looks terrible doing it, then breaks into a funky boogie nightmare that's just plain ugly, like watching your gawky teenage cousin trying to break-dance.

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"His program was nowhere near the level of Evan's," says Bezic. She says that his jumps looked "wonky."

Finally, Plushenko's scores are announced. He's one point shy of the gold! Lysacek wins it! The American jumps up and down but doesn't weep into his birdy hands again or even shout, "Come and kneel before Zod!" Which is a little disappointing, frankly. This is the first U.S. gold for a men's figure skater since Brian Boitano won in 1988, after all.

Later, Plushenko tells reporters, "If the Olympic champion doesn't know how to jump a quad, I don't know. Now it's not men's figure skating, now it's dancing." Wow, you really do need all the time fighting with your enemy, don't you, Plushenko? I think I know who's going to spend the rest of the week pretending to kick little animals in the face over and over again.

But if the 2006 Olympic champion doesn't know how to lose gracefully? Now he really is a loser.

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Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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Figure Skating Winter Olympics 2010



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