SOCHI, Russia – Evan Lysacek will not defend his Olympic figure skating title here, but the American star has revealed his blueprint on how to beat Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko.
Plushenko was the heavy favorite to win gold in Vancouver four years ago but was edged out by Lysacek despite using the media to belittle his rival in an apparent attempt to unsettle him. Such tactics are likely again by Plushenko for the men's competition, which begins Thursday night.
Lysacek insists that, despite Plushenko's experience, ability and willingness to stir things up, he can be beaten as long as his rivals are able to block out the potential verbal jabs.
"I definitely think I was a little bit surprised by some of his behavior," Lysacek told Yahoo Sports in a telephone interview. "It's sort of an experience that I've been facing since I was a kid, competitors trying to get under your skin or into your head. I learned a long time ago to block all of that out.
"But mainly my reaction to the Plushenko situation was that I have a lot of respect for him and I really had nothing bad to say about him at all. Some of that mental play and those mind games that go on between athletes are very common in every sport, they're very prevalent in skating."
In 2010, Lysacek consistently refused to bite as Plushenko turned up the heat by insisting the American's refusal to implement a high-risk quadruple jump in his routine was taking the sport backwards. After the competition, the Russian still could not hold his tongue, claiming Lysacek's lack of a quad meant he did not deserve to be called a "true champion."
Lysacek did not snap back. Instead, he graciously accepted his gold medal, which brought a series of endorsements and an appearance on "Dancing with the Stars."
Lysacek believes a similar approach of cool detachment is the best way for gold contenders Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu, and even Americans Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown, to ensure they are not distracted by any Plushenko mind games.
"My philosophy has always been to focus on what my own job is and, sort of in a way, mind my own business," Lysacek said. "I had so much going leading up to the Olympics that I didn't have any energy to focus on anything outside of my own task. And so I guess that's where my philosophy came from.
"I think just in life I try to be that way … and help myself and if any behavior or activity is not helping me or the people I care about, then I don't really need to get involved in it."
Alongside hockey star Alex Ovechkin and ladies ice princess Julia Lipnitskaia, Plushenko is among Russia's biggest Sochi Games celebrities and hopes to gain one last memorable triumph to close out his glittering career. He won silver in Salt Lake City in 2002, followed it up with gold in Torino, then took silver behind Lysacek in 2010.
Plushenko was a somewhat controversial selection for these Winter Games after finishing behind youngster Maxim Kovtun in the Russian national championships. However, he was still given the nod by the selectors.
Plushenko has already secured one gold medal in Sochi in the inaugural team competition. The 31-year-old will certainly receive a hero's welcome at the Iceberg Skating Palace when he takes to the ice for the men's event. He will be among the favorites on reputation alone, but as Lysacek showed, he can be beaten.
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