Out of competition since Vancouver Games, Lysacek to defend gold in Sochi
Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek performs during an exhibition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C. in this Jan. 30, 2011 file photo. (AP / Chuck Burton)
Barry Wilner, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013 4:49PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 24, 2013 5:27PM EDT
It's been more than three years since Evan Lysacek skated off with the gold medal in Vancouver. He hasn't competed since.
Yet, with the next Olympics 6 1-2 months away, Lysacek is taking aim at defending his title, something no male figure skater has done since 1952.
Lysacek embraces the idea of making history; Dick Button was the last repeat men's Olympic champion. He embraces being back on the ice in any capacity even more.
"I love skating and wouldn't be coming back if I didn't love it," he said Wednesday, one day after he was entered in the season's first significant event, the International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City on Sept. 11-15. "Of course I missed it.
"I never expected as a kid, as a young athlete or figure skater, to be going after history, and that's sort of a humbling thing. I understand there will be expectations; anytime you are going after a title it is very glamorous, and hopefully people will want to see that happen. It is great to have someone chasing history."
But that someone being Lysacek, now 28, seemed a long shot just a few months ago. After a self-imposed hiatus that included competing in "Dancing With The Stars," and a series of injuries that sidelined him when he hoped to return last season, he knows he is on, well, slippery footing.
Lysacek entered last year's Skate America, but then needed sports hernia surgery. He never made it back competitively, meaning he has missed three full seasons since beating rival Evgeni Plushenko for the Vancouver gold medal.
Such a layoff rarely works in any sport, let alone one that requires so much physicality combined with artistry like figure skating. Technically, skating has advanced tremendously since 2010. Lysacek would be lucky to finish in the top five at a world championship with his Vancouver programs.
The top men do a quadruple jump in their short program, and more than one in the free skate.
And while Lysacek understands he must upgrade the difficulty of his programs, he also knows he can't push it physically, given his recent injuries.
"I've tried my best to be cautious and cognizant of my body and any limitations," he said, "and I learned my lesson from the injuries the last few years. It's been absolutely brutal, the most difficult thing I have ever been through.
"I'm very aware, and after (practices) my body is sore like any elite athlete in any sport. Figure skating training is grueling, so those aches and pains are normal. But I am maintaining my strength, which is overall really good."
Lysacek unveiled a portion of his short program and his free skate during a show in Sun Valley, Idaho, on Saturday night. It was put together by the same team that helped him win Olympic gold: coach Frank Carroll, choreographer Lori Nichol and costume designer Vera Wang. He'll perform to music from the film "Black Swan" for the short program, and to "Samson and Delilah" for the free skate this season.
He found the Sun Valley show a perfect opportunity to test them.
"I've been eager to get back on the ice and training, and very eager to compete and see how it goes and how I feel," he said. "It was my first performance since surgery and it went well.
"I am not expecting to have Olympic-champion performances right off the bat, of course. It's kind of a building process throughout the season, and the most important step is the first one in some ways, and I am excited about it."
That will come in Salt Lake City, and Lysacek plans to then compete at Skate America in Detroit. He's hopeful of getting another Grand Prix series assignment, too, but would almost certainly need to win Skate America to be in line for one.
In early January in Boston are nationals, where the U.S. team for the Sochi Olympics will be chosen.
"I have my expectations at the right level and that is what is sort of most important," he said. "That is what is driving me. I would like nothing more than going to Sochi and defending my title, but I have many tasks ahead of me and can't get too far ahead of myself."