U.S. men don't appear likely for figure-skating gold
Posted: Monday November 7, 2005 1:41PM; Updated: Monday November 7, 2005 1:41PM
Three-time world champion Evgeny Plushenko could become the fourth straight Russian men's skater to win gold.
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Last Tuesday, I previewed the women's competition in Olympic figure skating. Today, we'll look at the men's side.
Over the last three Winter Games, American men have won only one figure skating medal -- Tim Goebel's bronze in 2002 -- a dry spell that appears destined to continue in Turin.
The 25-year-old Goebel, who used to land quads with the ease of a man squashing a grape, has regressed at an alarming rate since he finished second at the World Championships in '03. He finished a distant sixth at Skate America last month and looked like a skater without a clue.
U.S. men's champion Johnny Weir, fourth at the worlds in '05, was already struggling with his program this year before he injured his ankle last month at Skate Canada, finishing in agony and in seventh. A finely strung artiste who has groused about the merits -- or lack thereof -- of the new scoring system, Weir shows all the signs of a skater on the brink of implosion. Which probably leaves steady Evan Lysacek, 20, who finished third at the worlds last year, as the best hope for a U.S. medal. Best case scenario for any of them: bronze.
The favorite is three-time world champion Evgeny Plushenko, who will try to become the fourth straight Russian to go home with Olympic gold. The newlywed Plushenko is far and away the class of the field when he's healthy, but he had to pull out of last year's World Championships with a groin injury, and had operations on both his knees over the summer.
Plushenko's rehab has, by all accounts, gone smoothly. But he is only competing in one Grand Prix event this fall -- The Cup of Russia, in his hometown of St. Petersburg -- from Nov. 24 to 27, so the jury's still out whether he's fully recovered. In training, however, he's back to landing quads and quad-triple combinations.
Beyond Plushenko, the field is wide open. Last year's world champion, Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel, still has many doubters, and the betting is he'll turn out to be a one-hit wonder. France's Brian Joubert was off his form at Skate America, finishing third, but showed flashes of the brilliance that placed him second at the '04 worlds. Joubert is working with '02 Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin, and Joubert's straight-line footwork in his Lord of the Dance long program is reminiscent of Yagudin's sequence in Salt Lake -- guaranteed to bring the crowd out of its seats.
Japan has three excellent skaters, but only one spot on its Olympic team. Whoever makes it will be a medal contender, be it two-time worlds bronze medalist Takeshi Honda, surprise Skate America champion Daisuke Takahashi or '05 world junior champion Nobunari Oda, who finished third at Skate Canada, one place ahead of Honda.
Dark horses -- and in this field a dark horse could definitely medal -- include Canada's Jeffrey Buttle, second in last year's worlds, and Emanuel Sandhu, Skate Canada champion two weeks ago.
1. Plushenko 2. Joubert 3. Takahashi (or Honda, if he qualifies instead)