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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Like any good hockey fan, Evan Lysacek knows all about "The Miracle on Ice."
He'll need one of his own Thursday night.
Don't count out Takahashi
Though the press has been playing up a Russia-USA faceoff, the Japanese skater – currently in third by the slimmest of margins – may surprise.
Fans need only look at Torino. Russian Irina Slutskaya and American Sasha Cohen were expected to go 1-2, but Japan's Shizuka Arakawa stepped up and took the top spot on the podium.
Takahashi has the goods to take gold. He has a quad in his jumping repertoire; Lysacek does not. More important, his program component (formerly presentation) marks are better than Plushenko's, and in the free skate, those are weighted even more heavily.
Takahashi also has the highest total score under the judging system – 264.41 versus Plushenko's best of 258.33. Evan Lysacek's best score is even further back – 249.95.
Takahashi's routine will be set to Fellini's score from "La Strada" ("The Road"). On Thursday night, that road might be one to gold.
– Lawrence Yee
Lysacek is the United States' only remaining shot at gold in the men's figure skating competition, but although he's sitting in second place ahead of the all-important free skate, he still faces an almighty battle for the top of the podium against a living legend from Russia.
Evgeni Plushenko is figure skating's neighborhood bully, a performer with the power, precision, and depth of talent to blow away the competition. After Tuesday's short program, he sits in first place with a slim .55-point lead over Lysacek.
The head-to-head showdown between Russian and American is a fascinating one: Olympic titleholder against the world champion; expert of the quadruple jump against the man who refuses to perform it.
And, according to Plushenko, it's man – him – against boy.
Heck, Plushenko even drives a Maserati, while Lysacek cruises around his adopted home of Los Angeles in a Range Rover.
But what really makes this frozen fight enticing is its revival of an age-old rivalry of world superpowers. Admit it: You've missed it. Sure, it's not the Cold War anymore. But Plushenko and Lysacek can play out their own version on the frozen surface of the Pacific Coliseum. Plushenko even has that Cold War arrogance about him – he'd have made a perfect James Bond villain with that sinister grin and those steely eyes.
Lysacek should be able to get the patriotic juices flowing himself. Lindsey Vonn, Shani Davis, and Shaun White all excelled as expected Wednesday, but a Lysacek victory would be the first monumental U.S. upset of these Games. He is the only American who stands any chance of saluting the Star-Spangled Banner, after national champion Jeremy Abbott fell apart and Johnny Weir was more about performance than productivity Tuesday.
Many USA-Russia battles have been waged on the ice. The most notable men's showdown was in 1992, when underdog Paul Wylie battled his way to a silver medal but could not topple the exceptional Viktor Petrenko.
"Evan is very driven," Wylie said. "He is all about the task."
Lysacek has the chance to turn up the heat on his rivals with his position as the first skater in the final and decisive group of six. Plushenko performs last.
"I am feeling pretty good," Lysacek said. "A lot of it will be about staying calm and trusting myself to be strong under pressure.
"It is going to be intense, because it is the Olympics and that is as big as it gets. I need to go and do myself justice and get the job done."
It will take the effort of a lifetime, a bit of good fortune, and probably an uncharacteristic slip from the Russian for Lysacek to achieve the crowning glory of his career.
And celebrate his own Miracle on Ice.
- Evan Lysacek