Plushenko Prevails in Men's Figure Skating

Russian Evgeni Plushenko won the Olympic Gold in the men's figure skating championship Thursday night. American Johnny Weir, who was favored to win the silver, turned in a surprisingly flat performance and went away without a medal.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

There's a new Olympic men's figure skating champion. He's Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia. Earlier in the week, he gained a big lead after the short program, and he finished the job in last night's free skate, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Yevgeny Plushenko would have to fall three times, American skater Johnny Weir said, for anyone to slip past and claim the title. As Weir, Plushenko and the others in the final groups stepped onto the ice for warm-ups last night, everything about Plushenko seemed to mock the idea that someone else actually could win. The look in his eye was more than confident, it was imperious. The stubble on his face, why shave? There's nothing special about tonight. It's a lock.

(Soundbite of the theme to The Godfather)

GOLDMAN: Skating to The Godfather, Plushenko was deliberate, unemotional, but in total command. He began his program with a quadruple triple double jump combination. He never fell once, let alone three times, and at the end, a telling moment. Most skaters hold their final pose, but Plushenko just didn't need to. He stepped quickly out of the last move and clinched his fists. He had been beaten for the gold medal four years ago by fellow Russia Alexei Yagudin. But now Plushenko is the man, the fifth straight male skater from the former Soviet Union or Russia to win the Olympic title.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

GOLDMAN: About 10 minutes later, Johnny Weir began his program with a very good chance to be the best of the rest. He finished Tuesday's short program in second place, and last night, a silver medal was a real possibility.

But something was wrong. Weir seemed slow and flat. At one point, it looked like he actually dropped something from his program. He confirmed that afterwards, saying he was making things up as we went along.

Mr. JOHNNY WEIR (Figure Skater, Men's Olympic Team): I'd pulled out one jump and the tripe lutz combination I pulled, because the lutz was a little bit off on the landing. So I was going to do it on the flip, and then I thought about it too much and I did a little hoppy hop instead. So it was just at that moment I was trying to think of what to do and how to fix it and how to get the most points.

GOLDMAN: Weir performed like an athlete with a cluttered mind, but at the end of his program, when he bowed his head and shut his eyes, Weir said later, there was great clarity.

Mr. WEIR: The only thing I thought was [bleep].

GOLDMAN: Weir's problems last night began off the ice. He said the bus schedule from his housing to the skating venue changed. It left him stranded outside in the cold, running late, wishing he knew Italian.

Mr. WEIR: We were yelling at people. It's the first time that I've really wanted to be able to speak something, so that I could get my point across to everybody. But we got here. I skated. It wasn't good.

GOLDMAN: Weir brought up the bus problem, but insisted he didn't want to use it as an excuse. Certainly, American skater Evan Lysacek had a good excuse. He had been battling the stomach flu for a couple of days. And on his way to the venue last night, Lysacek considered pulling out of the competition. Good thing he didn't. He skated the first clean program of the evening, landing all eight triple jumps and performing with the passion that was missing from Weir and Plushenko. Lysacek jumped from tenth to fourth position, just behind bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle of Canada, and silver medalist Stephan Lambiel of Switzerland.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Turin.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: The last Olympic results and photos are with npr.org.

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