When New York’s Emma Rosenblum profiled Evan Lysacek last month, she noted an air about him which she described as “spidery masculinity.” Last night, watching him skate to gold, that description seemed so apt. The other skaters were birds: sparrows, ravens, doves — Johnny Weir, as always, was a swan. But Lysacek was a giant, black, herky-jerky arachnid — all straight limbs and joints and no curves and swoops. He doesn’t have their inherent grace, nor does he have the naturally petite body that is so perfect for the sport. Instead, he almost seemed at war with his six-foot-two-inch frame. His mastery of his program seems to have come from brute force of will and practice, rather than any kind of inherent gift. This speaks to what many commentators have noted is an incredible determination and focus.
It’s almost as if Lysacek is, well, a regular guy. That’s part of his appeal, isn’t it? He wasn’t born a skating, feathered pixie. He’s a dude who practiced a lot, and sometimes practice does indeed make perfect.
But as viewers, that throws us off. We’re used to thinking of figure skaters as ethereal, otherworldly creatures who are capable of things we could never get our bodies to do. (Forget the triple axel — how do they spin around so many times on the ground without falling over?) And these people have built into their programs maneuvers that, much of the time, they can’t even pull off! We’re used to thinking that triple combinations are nigh impossible because even people with invisible fairy wings can’t usually land them.
And then here struts in Evan Lysacek, normal athletic dude, without birdlike elegance, whose only magical feathers were sewn on by Vera Wang, pulling off a near-perfect routine. What does this mean? Could we — normal people, sitting on our couches watching dazedly as we gnaw on whatever cheese happens to be lying, slightly crispy, in a drawer at the bottom of the fridge — actually do that? If we practiced hard enough, that is? Is there really no magic required?
The thought is enough to make you want to switch back to the snowboard half-pipe race. Because that guy Shaun White definitely has invisible wings.
Related: How Evan Lysacek Got Ready to Win Gold [Vulture]