Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Open Letter To Evan Lysacek

As figure skating’s “pre-season” continues this week with both JGP Slovakia and the U.S. International Classic, I took it upon myself to write this open letter to our reigning men’s OGM. In theory, at least, he has time to read it now that Grant Hochstein is replacing him at the Classic. Best of luck to Hochstein and the rest of Team USA!

Dear Evan Lysacek,

You don’t know me, but we actually have a connection that goes beyond our suburban Chicago roots. Way back in the early 1980s—a few years before you were even born—came the formation of the DuPage Figure Skating Club of which you’ve been a member your entire career. I know this because, as an adolescent, I was one of its first members.

So, see? It’s almost like we’re related or something. Which might be why I feel I can say the following to you: 


I’m actually better than a relative because sometimes, ya know, they’ll just tell you what they think you want to hear. But I’m out here, in the cyberspace trenches. I read the IceNetwork and Phil Hersh articles (just to mention a few); I watch NBC bring your name up with every breath of skating airtime they take. And I’m here to tell you it’s just. Not. Worth it.

You are a 28 year-old man with two U.S. titles, one World title, and an Olympic Gold Medal. You have “everything” (by figure skating standards, anyway); still, you want more. I don’t begrudge you that... okay, that’s not true. I DO come from the school of thought that says the Olympics (to say nothing of that precious OGM) are such a special event... you’ve had your turn... in fact, you’ve been there twice... don’t deny someone else their dream just because “you wanted more”...

I know there’s that Other School, too—the one that says The U.S. needs to send its best competitors to Sochi; if Lysacek earns a Top Two finish in January, so be it. And I always have a problem with that argument, if only because the component mark is (and always will be) such a subjective little sucker, particularly where OGMs are concerned...

But that whole “should he or shouldn’t he?” debate is water under the proverbial ice bridge in your case, at least as far as I’m concerned. Because you’re injured, Evan. Again. It took a full season of “negotiations” with U.S. Figure Skating to reach an “agreement” for you to resume competing, but the resumption was over before it began due to a groin injury that kept you out of 2012 Skate America. Then came surgery in November 2012 to repair an abdominal tear (a.k.a. sports hernia), which of course kept you out of 2013 Nationals. Then came more buildup in the off season... again... more than ever this time, for you’ve made it clear the Sochi goal was your goal as well...

Then came USFS’s Champs Camp just a few weeks back, where your coach Frank Carroll made it clear that you are still suffering, reparation surgery be damned.

I don’t know in figure skating if someone has tried to come back from that level of injury, Carroll said about you.

And earlier this week, with just a few days to spare, IceNetwork announced your withdrawal from your latest comeback vehicle (the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, which starts its senior events Thursday evening ) due to a “slight abdominal tear.”

Look... I don’t think any of us doubt that you’re serious-as-a-heart-attack about this Sochi comeback stuff. It’s just that, at this point, I don’t want to see it become serious-as-a-guy-writhing-in-dire-agony-on-the-ice. If your body’s not fully healed at the start of an Olympic season, how’s it going to rectify itself... or even stay at some sort of “manageable” pain level... over the next four months of intensive training?

If you’d never made an Olympic team before, I’d understand the mindset a little better. But you HAVE. Twice. And won the ultimate prize the second time around. What is there to prove? That you’re a Man of Your Word? That your groin muscles are more resilient than Plushenko’s back muscles? That you’re more serious about this quest than Johnny Weir is about his? Is it a pride thing? (Oh, please don’t let it be a pride thing...)

NBC will set its sights elsewhere... eventually... but not until you and Frank tell them it’s time to do so. Maybe The Network Powers That Be aren’t as concerned about your well-being as you think. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to all that press, and stop feeling all that pressure.

Maybe, instead, you should listen to what your body’s trying to tell you.

See you at Skate America...?


Kelli Lawrence

(Who, incidentally, has 4 very nice photos of you in her book Skating on Air)


Anonymous said...

Some die-hards might disagree, but I'm with you. And I'd hate it for him to be remembered more for the let-downs than his actual accomplishments.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a person who believes in the entire concept of "turn-taking" when it comes to figure skating. I think figure skating is a sport, and Olympic gold medals need not be "Sorry, only one to a customer" in order not to "deprive someone else of their chance." I say if you want the chance at an Olympic gold medal, take it, and if you have to knock out the incumbent to get it, so be it.

That being said, I seriously doubt anything good will come of Evan Lysacek's quest for another Olympics. Either he's going to be too injured to do it, or he's not really injured and he's faking it in order to have to compete in the least number of events possible that will still qualify him for the Olympics. Either way, assuming he gets there, he could end up looking no better than Brian Boitano or Viktor Petrenko did in 1994.

People don't really talk much about how those guys looked in 1994 anymore, and it's a positive thing for them that so many seem to have forgiven and forgotten because...they didn't look too good. True, it didn't ruin their careers, but it didn't look too good. They ended up looking like guys who stayed too long at the fair, unlike Katarina Witt, who at least had the "I never really thought I could win, I just wanted to be able to compete in front of my parents and make an antiwar statement about Sarajevo" thing going for her.

Nah, I'm not against Lysacek competing anymore because it's "somebody else's turn." I'm against it because I just don't think it's going to be worth his while. He's either going to destroy his body doing it, or it's just not going to end well. For the record, I doubt the Plushenko comeback will end all that well, either.

Antoinette said...

I think the problem is that the pro world is dead. If there was a still Landover competition for skaters we might see less of these comeback attempts. There isn't a Champions on Ice anymore. Stars on Ice is down to a dozen cities. What exactly are skaters supposed to do after their Olympics, become used car salesmen? Evan grew up watching Boitano and Hamilton on tv every week, still competing, doing shows and tours. He wants something more after the Olympics, but there isn't anything more anymore.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Antoinette. Figure skating changed with the death of the concept of "amateur" vs. "pro." Years ago, skaters who wanted to compete at the Olympic level couldn't make money from what they did because they had to be "amateurs." This, of course, was nonsense created by the upper class, who wanted to keep the competition clear of "low-class" "riffraff" who actually had to work for a living. That way, only the rich would have enough leisure time and money to train, unless others got financial help or made big monetary sacrifices.

What this meant, after Sonja Henie proved that skaters who became Olympic champions were worth big entertainment money, is that there were two stages in most skating careers: 1) competing for medals; and 2) touring with a show for money. At least this was so for Western skaters whose training and living expenses weren't government subsidized. Thus it was until the 1990s, when skaters were no longer prohibited from making money while competing.

It has always been the case, however, that in figure skating, the skaters who get the most attention are those in the Olympics. While those who won a medal (especially gold) got a lot of notice then and for a short while after, the spotlight inevitably moved on to the next batch of Olympic stars.

Today, it's perfectly fine for any Olympic athlete to earn money. This means the primary motivation for competitive skaters quitting altogether and moving into the touring show world for good is gone. When you can make money from brief tours that don’t interfere with training, one-off shows, endorsements, and the competitions themselves, why "quit" until your body completely falls apart and tells you it's just not possible to compete anymore?

In the old days, skaters quit competing because they couldn't recoup training expenses without quitting. Many quit while their bodies were still strong, and toured for years giving high-quality performances. Not so now. With no motivation to stop competing, figure skaters aren't closing the doors on competition until their bodies tell them "no more." And knowing it's the Olympic athletes who get all the attention, many are tempted to try to work their way into another Olympics, whether their bodies can do it or not.

Of course, this has made a mess of the pro tours. They can't attract healthy skaters for long tours anymore, except for those who had little success in competition and are looking for other ways to keep skating. (Trouble is, without big titles or personal appeal, unless they're great entertainers, they won't have much of a future.) The most competitive, biggest-name skaters would rather keep competing. Once their bodies finally force them to quit, they're hardly in shape for a touring career, nor are they interested in one. They'd rather try making a living doing something else.

The problem? It's now entirely up to skaters themselves to decide when to retire from competition, which means some of them are going to try to push their bodies too far. When financial constraints made it more of a practical necessity for many of them to win the biggest Olympic medal they could and then leave for the tours, many "went out on top." Not today. It means everyone needs to get used to the idea that skaters no longer "take turns" competing in the Olympics anymore, or at least they're the only ones who decide when their "turn" is up (and it may not be until they blow out a knee).

Bank accounts used to make the decisions as to when skaters quit; now it's patellar tendons, lumbar vertebrae and meniscuses. Skaters are entirely on their own to decide when their bodies have had enough. Some will make the right ones; some will make the wrong ones. Only time will tell whether Evan's made the right one.

sara.raju said...

The thing that really annoys me more than anything else is that whenever this happens, in any sport not just skating is that the media INEVITABLY pays more attention to the has been making a comeback than the ones who are going to make the team, have the talent, will win the medals etc. Like. Isn't it kind of unfair to them that they don't get any of the glory because Grandpa over here can't get over the fact that HIS glory days of skating are behind him? I say this as someone who was incredibly excited when Evan won his OGM, but you know. THAT WAS ALMOST 4 YEARS AGO. I'VE MOVED ON.

Kelli Lawrence said...

So true, Sara. And of course, if the media gave the other talents their fair due, people WOULD be familiar with them... but the more they stay focused on the "old" names, the more people will be in the dark when the so-called "new" names show up at the next Games.

If they want people to care more about the competitors, and therefore watch more of the competitions... they've got to trust that the viewers can do better than glom onto the most familiar-sounding name.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Evan needs to officially retire, but I don't buy into the idea that he needs to do so because it's someone else's turn. I think if he was fit and in peak competitive form, I would love to see an American male win back-to-back gold medals. But he isn't fit and he isn't in peak competitive form. His body can't take the pummelling anymore, and it's becoming painful to watch him flounder around. I want to remember him as a champion, not cringe when I read about his latest withdrawal from competition.