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FIGURE SKATING

Nearly flawless Evan Lysacek wins men's title

He is the first American to win a world championship in 13 years.

March 27, 2009|Philip Hersh

The ovation for Evan Lysacek began 10 seconds before the music ended Thursday night at Staples Center.

The crowd was on its feet as Lysacek finished his final element, a combination spin, and put his hands on his head in a gesture of delighted disbelief.

Lysacek, 23, knew he had skated as well as he possibly could and was guaranteed no worse than a silver medal.

A few minutes later, after France's Brian Joubert lost his chance at the title with a botched landing of one jump and a belly flop after another, Lysacek had gone one better.

He is the first U.S. man to win the world title since Todd Eldredge in 1996.

"I was trying not to get too excited with each element, but I kept wanting to throw my hands in the air," said Lysacek, of Naperville, Ill., who has lived and trained in Los Angeles the last six years.

Skating to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," he cleanly landed eight triple jumps, spun effortlessly, received positive grades of execution on 12 of 13 elements and a neutral grade on the other and was rewarded with the highest level for all his spins.

Lysacek, second to Joubert after the short program, won the free skate and finished with 242.23 points.

Canada's Patrick Chan was second at 237.58 and Joubert third at 235.97.

After struggling to a third-place finish at nationals following his titles in 2007 and 2008, Lysacek saw everything come together in the last six weeks, despite problems with a stress fracture in his left foot.

"It has been a slow build for me this season," Lysacek said. "But when I got here I felt a new aura of confidence and was like a calm, new person."

No sooner was the gold medal around Lysacek's neck Thursday night than it started turning into a heavy weight.

Call it the burden of an unnerving history.

Not since Scott Hamilton in 1983-84 has the man who won the world title a year before the Olympics gone on to become Olympic champion.

Hamilton and Ondrej Nepala of Czechoslovakia are the only men to achieve that double in the last dozen Olympics.

That covers the eras with and without compulsory figures, with and without the short program, with the 6.0 scoring system and the Code of Points scoring system.

"If you didn't win worlds, you get into the role of the attacker," said 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano, second to Canada's Brian Orser in 1987. "I changed everything to become more aggressive."

Lysacek became the second straight world champion to win without a quadruple jump. Joubert was among the six men who landed them cleanly.

The other two U.S. skaters, national champion Jeremy Abbott and Brandon Mroz, both struggled. Mroz was ninth and Abbott 11th, lowest for a reigning U.S. champion at worlds since World War II.

Lysacek became the third skater coached by Frank Carroll to win a world title, following Michelle Kwan and Linda Fratianne.

This was his third world medal. He won bronzes in 2005 and 2006 but was forced to withdraw from last year's world meet after injuring his arm and shoulder from repeated falls due to skate blade problems in practice.

The foot injury prevented Lysacek from trying a quadruple jump at the worlds.

Ice dancing

U.S. ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the original dance Thursday, moving within range of becoming the first U.S. dancers to win the title.

"I don't know if I can even preview the emotions I would feel if that happens," Belbin said.

Belbin, a naturalized citizen from Canada, and Agosto, from Chicago, trail their Russian training partners, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, by only .64 points. Both couples work with Russian coaches Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karpanosov in Aston, Pa.

Another U.S. team, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, is just .09 from third place.

--

phersh@tribune.com

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