By Associated Press | Feb. 19, 2010, 1:04 a.m. (ET)
Evan Lysacek competes in the men's figure skating free skate at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games at the Pacific Coliseum on Feb. 18, 2010 in Vancouve, B.C.


VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Evan Lysacek of the United States won the men's figure skating gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics on Thursday, upsetting defending champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia.

Daisuke Takahashi finished third and became the first Japanese man to win a figure skating medal at the Olympic Games. Lysacek is the first U.S. man to win the Olympic gold since Brian Boitano in 1988.

"I couldn't have asked for much more than that, to have my personal best in the most important moment of my life," Lysacek said, even before he knew he won. "I've just dreamed about it. But more than that, I love this crowd, I love this ice, I love this building. I really had a good time."

Plushenko came out of retirement with the goal of making history of his own with a second straight Olympic gold medal. The last to skate, Plushenko held up both index fingers when he finished, as if to say, "Was there ever any question?" As it turned out, yes - and it wasn't really that close.

Lysacek, the reigning world champion, finished with a career-best 257.67, 1.31 ahead of Plushenko, who topped the podium in Turin.

When Plushenko's scores were posted, someone in the arena screamed out, "Evan Lysacek has won the gold!" Backstage, surrounded by longtime coach Frank Carroll and pairs gold medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, Lysacek threw back his head in disbelief and utter elation.

Lysacek was the first of the top skaters to go, and he played it safe for the first three minutes of his 4½-minute program. He had long decided against doing a quad, not wanting to risk further damage to the left foot he'd broken last spring. But everything he did was technically perfect. His jumps were done with the control and dependability of a fine Swiss timepiece, and his spins were so well-centered you could see the tight little circle of his tracings clear across the ice.

He didn't skate with his usual flair and charisma, but when he landed his last jump, a double axel, Lysacek let loose. His face was expressive, and he fixed the judges with a kingly glare during his circular steps.

The last note of his music was still fading when Lysacek pumped his fists up and down and screamed "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" He clapped his hands and skated to center ice, throwing his arms out wide to the crowd and blowing kisses. He put his arm around the shoulder of Carroll, who had yet to coach a gold medalist despite a distinguished list of past and present skaters.

Plushenko skated with his usual flair and dramatics, drawing laughs from the crowd with his saucy, seductive tango. No one loves the limelight quite like Plushenko, and he was in his element. He preened and posed and skated as if he was sure another gold medal was his.

But Plushenko, who can do jumps in his sleep, was just a bit off. He needed the instincts of a cat to pull off more than one landing and, while he did it, they cost him the bonus points that are the difference between silver and gold. His spins weren't quite as good as Lysacek's, either, and he got lower levels for one of his sections of footwork.

Much had been made about Plushenko's transition scores, the mark given for the steps connecting the elements. But it wasn't the component marks that made the difference. Lysacek edged Plushenko on the technical mark, which the three-time Olympic medalist and three-time world champion has owned for most of his career.

Takahashi is wonderfully expressive, from the bottom of his blades to the tips of his spiky, mop-topped hair. His edge quality is as fine as a master carver's and his blades are like little lightning strikes, allowing him to change directions and turn without losing a millisecond of speed.

It made for a fast, energetic and very entertaining program. Takahashi played to both the judges and the crowd, taking them along for the ride. His only flaw was a fall on his opening quadruple toe loop - a jump he hadn't landed all week.

Lysacek, whose world title was the first by a U.S. man since 1996, looked almost dazed when he heard the first notes of the "Star Spangled Banner." But as he watched the flag rise, he broke into a wide grin. Someone handed him a U.S. flag as he left the medals podium to take his victory lap, and he waved it a couple of times before twirling it above his head like a lasso.

As he skated around the arena, he held his flowers aloft in his right hand and clutched his gold medal in the left. No way anyone was going to take this away from him.