PARK CITY, Utah -- Evan Lysacek's scintillating gold medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics had everything but a quadruple jump. Conventional wisdom said that would be the last time a champion could afford to do without the biggest trick. The sport was advancing inexorably, and even though there are still very few men who can land clean quads consistently in competition, there's no doubt the attempt will be necessary in Sochi.
Lysacek knew that, and he had included a quad toe loop in a short program run-through on Aug. 21. He took a violent spill and stayed off the ice for a month because of an abdominal tear. But the pain returned when he resumed training, and doctor-ordered imaging last week revealed a tear to his left labrum that seriously endangers Lysacek's chances of competing at all this Olympic season.
The 28-year-old Chicago-area native had already pulled out of a competition this month and Monday told reporters at the Olympic media summit that he would be forced to skip Skate America, the first Grand Prix event of the season and an important bellwether for Lysacek back in his heyday. (Jason Brown, who won silver at the 2013 world juniors, will take Lysacek's place in the lineup.)
Lysacek joked that his rehab "has all the makings of a gripping reality show -- constantly developing, new characters constantly entering into the list." But his demeanor was subdued. He called his return to training on ice "a recent development" and didn't delve into specifics, saying only that he is being cautious and following doctors' orders.
In order to compete at the Olympics, Lysacek must first log a minimum qualifying score of 25 points in the technical elements of the short program and 45 points in the free skate -- basically, the equivalent of breathing and staying upright -- at an international competition.
The U.S. national championships in Boston in January, where the team will be selected (results generally prevail, but there is some discretion), doesn't count in that equation. At the moment, Lysacek has no other Grand Prix assignment or invitation. He said he is working with the U.S. Figure Skating Association to find an event or events where he can meet the standard and shake off the rust.
"My goal is still to be ready for nationals, and I trust that my body will get there," he said.
Lysacek took a season off after the 2010 Olympics and did not compete in 2011-12 due to a financial disagreement with the USFSA. That dispute was resolved in time for the 2012-13 season, but Lysacek was hobbled by a sports hernia that ultimately required surgery.
The Boston Globe's John Powers asked Lysacek if his longtime coach, Frank Carroll, has ever questioned this comeback attempt.
"He's always giving me at least some kind of mental test because he needs to know, because he's such a smart psychologist of sorts, where I stand mentally," Lysacek said.
"He asked me several probing questions and all I said was, 'Frank, I want to do this more than anything.' Every time I think I might not want to, I go back and watch a skating competition.
"In a lot of ways, I feel stronger than I've ever been, stamina, strength-wise," Lysacek said. "I have a great team of trainers, nutritionists, and obviously my coach is incredible ... I'm going to chalk the last year and a half up to bad luck, and I'm hoping the luck turns around."
About that quad ...
Lysacek took the opportunity to steer the conversation away from himself and toward what he considers a credibility issue in skating's scoring system.
He said too many men are trying quad jumps without any realistic chance of executing them, ruining the flow of programs but still racking up points.
"They've never landed a quad in their lives, but they put three or four in their program and go down on every one because they get more points for that than a triple. That to me is where an audience member will not understand that," Lysacek said. "If that happened in snowboarding, they wouldn't get it. If that happened in aerial skiing, they wouldn't get it. So why in figure skating do we think audience members are going to be able to wrap their brains around that?"