Why Evan Lysacek still is the talk of U.S. men's skating

Competitive days seemingly numbered, he still adds up to something extra

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Evan Lysacek at the 2013 U.S. Olympic Media Summit in Park City, Utah.  (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

Evan Lysacek at the 2013 U.S. Olympic Media Summit in Park City, Utah. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters / October 1, 2013)

Within days, we are likely to find out what long has seemed like a foregone conclusion: that Evan Lysacek has given up the attempt to defend his Olympic figure skating title.

There are those who ask why there still is so much attention, from sponsors and the media, on an injury-plagued 28-year-old who has not competed since the 2010 Olympics and has just one event left in which to get the 2014 Olympic qualifying score.

The answer lies in the results.

They show that no U.S. man  – and only a few in the world – has been as consistently good internationally under the sport’s new judging system as Lysacek was from 2005 through the Vancouver Winter Games.

And the men in contention for the two spots on the U.S. team in Sochi have been either woefully inconsistent, especially in major competitions, or too new at the senior elite level to establish a track record.

Case in point: at the Grand Prix Final underway in Fukuoka, Japan, there is no U.S. man among the six qualifiers for the second straight season and third time in the four seasons since the 2010 Olympics.

The last time Lysacek was in the Grand Prix Final, three months before Vancouver, he won.

That result is consistent with what he had done for several seasons.

Beginning in 2005, Lysacek:

*Was first and fourth in the Olympics, on the podium in three of four World Championships (one win), on the podium in all four Four Continents appearances (two wins), on the podium in all 10 of his Grand Prix regular-season events (two wins) and in both Grand Prix Final appearances (one win.)

So he made the podium in 20 of those 22 events, with a worst finish of fifth in the 2007 worlds.  Only one U.S. man ever has beaten Lysacek in an Olympics, worlds, Four Continents or Grand Prix Final; that came in his 2003 Four Continents debut.  No U.S. man has finished higher than fifth at worlds since Lysacek won in 2009; only one other U.S. man, Johnny Weir in 2008, has won a world medal since 2003.

Lysacek's final chance to get the scores needed before January's U.S. Championships is the Ukrainian Open beginning Dec. 18, with a stated entry deadline of next Tuesday.  Given training time lost to the injuries that led him to withdraw from competitions in early September and late October, almost no one expects him to skate in Kiev.  Some critics argue he has kept hope alive to stay in the news and please his many big-name sponsors, an idea he dismissed in a Tribune interview two months ago.

“That did not play into my thought process at all,” he said.  “It is too difficult every single day to train.  It is way too difficult of a path or journey to take because sponsors want you to do it."

And there has been no guarantee that even a Lysacek healthy enough to compete this season would have been anywhere near as good as he was.  But his competitive record is so impressive – and his past work ethic so strong – that Lysacek is owed considerable benefit of the doubt.

Especially considering the alternatives.

Has anyone been more underwhelming at worlds – and more generally inconsistent – than all but one of the U.S. men who have been there the most since the 2010 season?

Here are the worlds results since of those still active this season.

Three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott?  Eighth.

Adam Rippon? 13th.

Ross Miner? 14th and 11th.

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