Risk vs. reward for U.S. in figure skating, halfpipe | VailDaily.com

Risk vs. reward for U.S. in figure skating, halfpipe

AP Sports Writer
USA's Evan Lysacek performs his short program during the men's figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Two athletes, two sports – and two different plans for impressing the judges.

Evan Lysacek seems inclined to play it safe, although he might need something special to come from behind in his figure skating long program. Kelly Clark is ready to gamble again, but it cost her dearly four years ago in the halfpipe.

NBC will air the men’s figure skating free skate and the women’s halfpipe in prime time Thursday at the Vancouver Olympics, and in each event, competitors have a choice. Do they try for a high degree of difficulty, or perform moves they know they can finish cleanly?

“I’ve spent a lot of time working on every aspect of training,” Lysacek said. “For me, each stroke I take, each jump, each step, each spin is equally important.”

Lysacek, the two-time U.S. champ, trails Evgeni Plushenko of Russia heading into the final skate. Plushenko was the only contender to land a quad in the short program.

“The quad is necessary, that is my opinion. Some people might say that we should do other things, but in my opinion not doing the quad will be going backwards in time,” Plushenko said. “In the ’80s, skaters did doubles, then we started doing triples, then triple axels, then the quad.”

Lysacek, however, said he isn’t likely to try a quad in his free skate. He won worlds without one last year, although Plushenko wasn’t there.

“I used to really enjoy training the quad, and I thought it was really important to try it in every competition,” he said. “But several times I fell. Then I broke my foot, and it became less fun and more scary.”

Lysacek could also point out what happened to Clark at the 2006 Turin Games. The American snowboarder tried a 900-degree spin when an easier one would have sufficed to put her at least on the medal stand. She fell, finishing fourth.

The funny thing is, she has no regrets, and she’s said she’d do the same thing this year.

“It’s just my style, who I am,” she said recently.

That style helped her win the gold in 2002, and she’s one of three Americans expected to contend this year. Hannah Teter took the gold in 2006, and Gretchen Bleiler was second.

Halfpipe was brought to the Olympics in 1998. Finalists are given scores by five judges, all grading their overall impression of the performance, looking for elements such as the smoothness of the run, the height of the jumps and the difficulty of the tricks.

Also in prime time, NBC plans to show the women’s Alpine super-combined and women’s 1,000-meter speedskating. Lindsey Vonn and Christine Nesbitt won’t have to worry about style points in those events. They simply have to ski and skate faster than everyone else.

Vonn’s status was in doubt last week because of an injured shin, but the American competed for the first time Wednesday and took gold in the downhill. The super-combined was supposed to take place last weekend but was pushed back because of bad weather.

“I was really lucky with the weather and the postponements,” she said. “I needed those days off.”

Nesbitt was the world champion in the 1,000 last year. The Canadian competed in the 500 already at these Olympics and finished 10th, which she considered a good sign.

“This gives me confidence for the 1,000,” she said. “Usually they have a much stronger start than me. Now I am not that far away.”

Elsewhere on Thursday, the U.S. and Canada will play their second games in the men’s hockey tournament after winning their openers. The Americans take on Norway, and Canada faces Switzerland. Those games will be aired by USA and CNBC.

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