Can Lysacek pull upset?

American is in second entering long program

If the ladies figure skating competition figures to be a bit too pedestrian at these 2010 Winter Olympics it won't be a problem. Because right now the men are putting on a show that could be hard to top.

The women have long provided television networks with a staple of Winter Olympics coverage. This year three men — Russia's Evgeni Plushenko, American Evan Lysacek and Japan's Daisuke Takahashi — all posted huge scores during the short program. After a night off, they will gather again at Pacific Coliseum on Thursday for a primetime showdown in the free skate.

Plushenko wowed judges with his thrilling comeback performance — he had retired after winning gold at the 2006 Torino Games and only started seriously training again 11 months ago. His score of 90.85 was the second-best of his brilliant career.

But a second consecutive gold is far from a sure thing for the 27-year-old. Lysacek, the reigning world champion is in second place at 90.30. He's the reigning world champion, but Plushenko is the one with a target on his back. An elite pack of skaters is chasing him, including fifth-place Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, who took silver at Torino.

“[Plushenko] has the power mentally because he has what we all want,” Lysacek said. “It's going to take some mighty fine skating to get that power away from him.”

Lysacek performed beautifully. But maybe the most important development was dealing with a painful left foot injury that has bothered him on and off for months. He felt better on Tuesday night. But does he feel good enough to add a quadruple jump to the equation in Thursday's long program? Lysacek had planned on leaving it out of his Olympic program. In a tight chase for gold, though, it could spell the difference.

It's unlikely anyone other than the top three — Takahashi is third at 90.25 — will contend for gold. Fourth place belongs to Japan's Nobunari Oda at 84.85. Lambiel may have a better shot after his 84.63 just because he's been here before. Not only is the 24-year-old an Olympic silver medalist, but he jumped from fifth to second after the short program at the European Championships last month.

“That's competition and it is never going to be easy,” Plushenko said. “If somebody says today, 'I am not nervous' or 'I skate easy,' or 'I am not tired' I don't believe him.”

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