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Sports Then and Now

Lysacek Puts U.S. Back On Top Of Figure Skating World

Posted on February 20, 2010 by Dean Hybl

The Today Show Gallery of Olympians

Evan Lysacek became the first American man to win gold in figure skating since 1988.

The scintillating Olympic performance by Evan Lysacek not only brought the American a gold medal, but also helped lift the United States back to prominence in an event it once dominated.

From the time Dick Button claimed the first medal by an American with the first of his consecutive gold medal performances in 1948 through the gold medal winning skate of Brian Boitano in 1988, the United States was regularly contending for and winning Olympic medals in men’s figure skating.

Overall, the U.S. won six gold medals and 12 total medals during that 40 year stretch. In 1956, the U.S. became the first country since Sweden during the first Olympic figure skating championship in 1908 to sweep the victory stand.

Other U.S. stars including David Jenkins (1956 bronze and 1960 gold) and Scott Hamilton (1984 gold) continued the American prominence in the sport.

However, following Boitano’s victory in Calgary and a silver medal by Paul Wylie at the 1992 games in Albertville, the U.S. suddenly fell from prominence in the sport while Russia and Canada seized control.

Which American Star Has Shined the Brightest in the Winter Olympics?

  • Apolo Ohno (41%, 69 Votes)
  • Shaun White (32%, 55 Votes)
  • Evan Lysacek (12%, 21 Votes)
  • Lindsey Vonn (7%, 12 Votes)
  • Shani Davis (4%, 7 Votes)
  • Julia Mancuso (3%, 5 Votes)
  • Hannah Kearney (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Seth Wescott (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 170

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Only a bronze medal by American Timothy Goebel at the Salt Lake City games in 2002 saved the U.S. from enduring a decade without a medal in the event.

Lysacek combined athleticism and grace to win Olympic gold.

Lysacek combined athleticism and grace to win Olympic gold.

Lysacek’s victory ended a streak of five straight gold medals by Russians. Interestingly, it also prolonged a streak of now 10 straight Olympics in which someone from North America (either U.S. or Canada) has medaled in men’s figure skating. The last time no one from North America graced the Olympic podium was in Sapporo in 1972.

Figure skating (both men’s and women’s) was once the pinnacle individual sport of the Winter Olympics (arguably alongside the men’s downhill). However, the increase in popularity of other sports including snowboarding, curling and short track skating has eroded some of the interest.

In addition, the lack of American superstars may also have hampered the sport.

Having a gold medal winner like Lysacek should certainly help rekindle some interest in the sport. However, his emergence comes at a time when the U.S. women’s team does not have a clear superstar and medal favorite.

The U.S. women’s team has placed at least one women’s skater on the podium in each of the last 11 Olympics and 14 of the last 15 dating back to 1952. Included in that total are seven gold medals, seven silver medals and five bronze.

With that streak seemingly in jeopardy, it could be tough for U.S. Figure skating to reap full reward from Lysacek’s victory. Given that he is 24 years of age and competing in his second Olympics, his win in Vancouver could very easily have been his final Olympic skate.

But regardless of whether the U.S. can build lasting momentum and reclaim stature for figure skating in the long term, the short term reality is that Lysacek is the Olympic Champion and for at least one night figure skating recaptured the hearts and minds of Olympic fans.

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