A silver medal by any other name…

March 16, 2010 — by Christine Tseng and Nandini Ruparel

In elementary school, teachers always try to give equal awards to all the kids in order to prevent jealousy among the students. Based on Russian skater Eveginy Plushenko’s reaction to American gold medalist Evan Lysacek’s victory at the Vancouver Olympics, you’d think he had never learned to be a gracious loser.

To quad or not to quad?

The main issue between the two was the quadruple jump, which was optional but hotly debated all the same. While half of the male figure skaters claimed that a successful execution of the jump was required to win a gold medal, the other half believed it to be important, yet nonessential to winning gold. Plushenko belonged to the former group, while Lysacek predictably belonged to the latter. It was clear from this huge difference in opinion that there would be a clash. Eventually, Lysacek won without delivering the jump, leaving a quad jump-successful Plushenko disappointed and bitter.

Talk about a sore loser

Plushenko, angry about his silver medal and Lysacek’s gold, took matters into his own hands, declaring himself the “platinum medal” winner, going so far as to say that Lysacek was undeserving of his gold. Worsening matters, Vladmir Putin, the prime minister of Russia, sent a strongly worded telegram telling Plushenko that his silver was worth gold. Although Plushenko’s chagrin is understandable, he went too far in trying to soothe his wounded ego. One would expect more maturity from a three-time Olympian but his pretense of platinum only made him seem like a jerk who couldn’t handle someone else winning.

Even Lysacek, who had previously considered Plushenko a role model, was visibly upset; yet he still acted more maturely, graciously saying that Plushenko must have been under a lot of pressure and that he acted in the heat of the moment. As a younger and less experienced skater, Lysacek has become the new favorite, establishing himself as a role model on and off the ice. Perhaps age is no longer a correct measurement of one’s values.

So, who should have won?

Although both skated very well, it still comes down to the execution and strategy of the overall program and, in this case, Lysacek clearly did a better job. Plushenko, while performing the quad jump, did not land gracefully; many of his jumps were shaky and he often barely made the landing. His displays of gracefulness and dignity were overdone and choppy, giving off a feeling of overconfidence. As many people pointed out, if the competition was based purely on jumps, Plushenko would have won; however, performance and aesthetic elements are just as important in figure skating. Lastly, his program was ill-designed. During the second half, jumps are worth an extra 10 percent, but Plushenko misused his timing, putting only three of his seven jumps in the second half and wasting his last minute with nothing planned.

On the other hand, Lysacek gave a strong performance on the ice, mixing technical and aesthetic elements equally. Although he did not perform the quad jump, he executed all other jumps with the perfect spin and landing. The gold-medalist was comfortable on the ice and made the audience enjoy the program while also proving that he was technically strong, especially in spins. He showed flair and attitude, but just the right amount to win the judges’ heart and points. Lysacek made good use of his time, judiciously placing five of his eight jumps in the second half and wasting no time. As the better skater and performer, he undoubtedly deserved the Olympic gold.

The sad part

Plushenko came out of three and a half years of retirement to participate in the Vancouver Olympics only to lose by a hair-thin 1.31 points. The scores show that if Plushenko had just attempted one more jump, or done a triple combination instead of a double, he could have won the gold by a long shot. If he had utilized his time more wisely and planned better, he would have pulled through. But it’s clear that his prententious “platinum medal” doesn’t change the fact that Lysacek skated better and won the more prestigious medal—not to mention winning the sportsmanship battle.