From the fifth grade on, Lysacek lived skating, traveling, training, and moving up the rankings. After high school, he took up with Kwan’s coach, Frank Carroll.
Lysacek is probably best known for what happened at the Turin Olympics. After finishing tenth in the short program, he contracted a bacterial infection. “I was like, ‘Send me home, send me home right now,’ and they were giving me all these injections, but my veins kept collapsing because I was so dehydrated,” he says. Carroll wouldn’t let him quit. “He goes, ‘Just think about what you’re doing. This is your entire life—think about how many people and how many steps it took to get on the team, and you’re going to give it up because you don’t feel well? Okay, it’s up to you.’ ” Lysacek skipped practice but skated the long program, performing one of the best routines of his career and placing fourth overall, and his grit was featured in NBC’s coverage.
Figure skating has changed drastically since Scott Hamilton’s day—the jumps are more daring, the skaters more muscular. But the biggest shift is the new scoring system, instituted following the 2002 Olympic scandal in which the French judge admitted to favoring the Russians over the Canadians because of pressure from the head of the French skating federation. The old system, in which each judge gave a score out of a possible 6.0, was replaced by one that awarded points based primarily on technical skills, placing less emphasis on choreography and artistic interpretation. That makes judging the sport less subjective, but many complain that it takes the artistry out, reducing routines to soulless accumulations of jumps and foot tricks. Lysacek has mastered this new system. “Every step matters now,” he says. “Instead of your choreographer saying, ‘Okay, now we have twenty seconds for you to do your triple axel,’ it’s like, ‘Do two crossovers in each direction going into your triple axel, and we need multidirectional transitions, so we’ll rotate the axel counterclockwise so that it’s a difficult transition and entry.’ ”
On January 20, Johnny Weir meets me at Sassoon, where he was getting his hair done into a dramatic swirl for the premiere of his Sundance reality-TV show, Be Good Johnny Weir, at the IFC Center. Weir’s wearing a top that interlaces in the back with red fabric, almost like a leotard, a metallic vest, and what could pass for leggings. He’s tiny and his eyelashes curl like a Disney princess’s.
On the ride downtown, he tells me that the new scoring system is exactly what has gone wrong with the sport. “It’s all, ‘Change your direction, change your edge, change this, change that, jump, jump, jump,’ ” he says. “So we’ve run out of time to create a story with your routine, and for me, that’s what I love about figure skating, that I used to get to create this magical world for people to fall into.”
He’s critical of Lysacek’s success at the new system. “For me, Evan’s skating is a lot about fireworks. That last minute of the program he brings people to their feet because he’s flailing his arms around, running and spinning fast and doing things that are exciting. But for me, I’m very much about the beauty of what you can create. Evan doesn’t let himself feel as much. He does what somebody tells him will work. I’m about showing that beauty. For me, Evan comes off as cold.”
As we make our way to the premiere, he tells me he’s sneaking out early to see Lady Gaga at Radio City, as a guest of the singer. As for Vancouver, “I’ve been the underdog all season, and then this Olympics, I can just go and unleash all my diva power.”
But the real gold comes after the Olympics. Lysacek today earns money from competition prizes—first place can be as much as $50,000—and doing tours, like Smucker’s Stars on Ice. Evan Morgenstein, the CEO of the PMG Sports agency, who has represented Bruce Jenner, Mark Spitz, and Greg Louganis, thinks that Lysacek is primed to become a “rock star.” “He’s a good-looking kid, he’s well spoken—in the end, every endorsement deal starts with whether you’re ‘mediable’ or not,” he says.
Lysacek is mediable. He is currently sponsored by Coca-Cola, Ralph Lauren, and AT&T, and has a contract with DNA Models. “I’ve never been scared to have him talk to anybody on our behalf,” says Dina Gerson, the director of Olympic marketing of Coca-Cola North America (Lysacek’s silhouette is currently on Coke cans). Plus there’s “the inspiring story of his Torino experience, when he got sick and yet made sure to stay positive and ended up being so happy after getting fourth place … Evan appeals to moms and teens, which is our target.”