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Olympic stunner -- American figure skater Lysacek upsets Russian Plushenko for gold medal

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Evan Lysacek brought down the champion.

Lysacek became the first U.S. man to win the Olympic gold medal since Brian Boitano in 1988, shocking everyone -- maybe even himself -- by upsetting defending champion Evgeni Plushenko on Thursday night. Plushenko came out of retirement with the sole purpose of making a little history of his own with a second straight gold medal.

The last to skate. Plushenko held up both index fingers when he finished, as if to say, "Was there ever any question?" As it turned out, yes.

And it wasn't really that close.

When Plushenko's scores were posted, someone in the arena screamed, "Evan Lysacek has won the gold!" Backstage, surrounded by longtime coach Frank Carroll and pairs gold medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, Lysacek threw back his head in disbelief and utter elation.

The reigning world champion finished with a career-best 257.67, 1.31 ahead of the Russian. Daisuke Takahashi won the bronze, the first Japanese man to win a figure skating medal at the Olympic Games.

"I couldn't have asked for much more than that, to have my personal best in the most important moment of my life," Lysacek said, even before he knew he won.

Johnny Weir was sixth and U.S. champ Jeremy Abbott rallied to finish ninth.

Lysacek, whose world title was the first by a U.S. man since 1996, looked almost dazed when he heard the first notes of the "Star-Spangled Banner." But as he watched the flag rise, he broke into a wide grin. Someone handed him a U.S. flag as he left the medals podium to take on his victory lap, and he waved it a few times before twirling it above his head like a lasso.

As he skated around the arena, he held his flowers aloft in his right hand and clutched his gold medal in the left. No way anyone was going to take this away from him.

Especially not Plushenko.

Much had been made about of Plushenko's transition scores, the mark given for the steps connecting the elements, as well as his other component scores -- think the old artistic marks. But those didn't cost him the medal.

Lysacek edged Plushenko on the mark for their technical elements -- jumps, spins and footwork. That's the score the three-time Olympic medalist and three-time world champion has pretty much made his trademark.

Lysacek was the first of the big guns to skate in the last group, and he played it safe for the first three minutes of his 41/2-minute program. He had long decided against doing a quad, not wanting to risk further damage to the left foot he'd broken last spring. But everything he did was technically perfect. His jumps were done with the control and dependability of a fine Swiss timepiece, and his spins were so well-centered you could see the tight little circle of his tracings clear across the ice.

He didn't skate with all his usual flair and charisma. But when he landed his last jump, a double axel, Lysacek let loose. His face was so expressive that budding actors should have taken note, and he fixed the judges with a majestic glare during his circular steps. Fans were roaring their approval as he finished his final spin.

The last note of his music was still fading when Lysacek pumped his fists and screamed, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" He clapped his hands and skated to center ice, throwing his arms out wide to the crowd and blowing kisses. He put his arm around Carroll, who had yet to coach a gold medalist despite a list of past and present skaters that reads like a Who's Who on Ice.

"It was definitely my best, and that's what I came here to do," Lysacek said.

Plushenko skated with his usual flair and dramatics, drawing laughs from the crowd with his saucy, seductive tango. No one loves the limelight quite like Plushenko, and he was in his element. He preened, posed and skated as if certain another gold medal was his.

But Plushenko, who can do jumps in his sleep, was noticeably off. He was crooked in the air on many of his jumps, and had to be part cat to manage to come down on one foot and hold it long enough for it to count. But the funky finishes cost him the bonus points that make the difference between silver and gold. His spins weren't quite as good as Lysacek's, either, and he got fewer points for one of his footwork sections.

Takahashi is wonderfully expressive, from the bottom of his blades to the tips of his spiky, mop-topped hair. His edge quality is as fine as a master carver's and his blades are like little lightning strikes, allowing him to change directions and turn without losing a millisecond of speed.

It makes for a fast, energetic and very entertaining program, and he infused it with a healthy dose of sass. He played to the judges and the crowd, taking them along for the ride.

His only flaw was a fall on his opening quadruple toe loop -- a jump he hadn't landed all week.