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

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

Philip Hersh

Globetrotting

11:12 AM EST, December 5, 2013

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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.

Richard Dornbush?  9th.

Max Aaron? The reigning U.S. champion was a respectable if non-medal competitive 7th in his world debut last March but struggling this season.

Abbott also was a disappointing 9th at the 2010 Winter Games after having dominated the U.S. Championships a month earlier with skating impressive enough to win Olympic gold.

He has made the podium in none of four worlds, with a best finish equal to Lysacek’s worst; two of four Four Continents (both third places); one of three Grand Prix Finals (a win); and, to create a comparison with Lysacek, seven of his last 10 Grand Prix events, including one this season (two wins).

Rippon has made the podium in just three of his last 10 Grand Prix appearances (one of two this season) and one of three Four Continents (a win).  He never has qualified for a Grand Prix Final.

Miner has two podiums in seven total Grand Prix events, with a ninth place in his one event this season.  Dornbush is 0-for-6, with a fifth place this season.

Aaron and Jason Brown, senior Grand Prix rookies this season, each has one podium in two events and a very poor free skate in the other.  Another promising rookie, reigning world junior champion Joshua Farris, was fifth in his debut event and withdrew from the second with an injury.

When you add that all up, it doesn’t amount to much in terms of Olympic medal contention.  In fact, it shows the sum of all the parts doesn’t come close to adding up to a less-than-whole Lysacek.

Say all you want about the beautiful skating Abbott and Rippon produce at their best and that Brown, still just 18 and lacking a consistent triple axel, has used to dazzle audiences.  Figure skating is a competitive sport, and they keep score, so the bottom line is results trump everything else.

For years, Evan Lysacek was the ace.