The men’s figure skating competition concluded last night, and, of course, I was pleased to see the American Evan Lysacek win gold. I was nervous because the Russian skater, Yevgeny Plushenko, skated so well, and at the conclusion of the short program Tuesday night he was ahead of Lysacek. Both Plushenko and Lysacek skated extremely well (I don’t think either fell down at all), and it really could have gone either way. I actually like Plushenko, so I wouldn’t have been heartbroken had the result been reversed.
But it was fascinating to read an interactive feature in the New York Times today that explains the diminishing returns skaters receive by attempting quadruple jumps. Plushenko had a quadruple jump in his program, Lysacek didn’t. But Plushenko’s quad only increased his score by a point or less over these Olympics. Recognizing that a failed quad jump would cost him up to three points, Lysacek avoided it, and concentrated on other moves that brought more points.
The data seem to show that quad jumps only get you a little if you succeed, but cost you a lot if you fail.
UPDATE: Lysacek was just on NBC talking to Bob Costas, and he seems like a class act. Costas asked for his reaction to statements made by Plushenko about the quad jump. Plushenko–understandably, in my opinion–believes that the quadruple jump has an important place in figure skating – that it is, in effect, the future of figure skating, and not doing it is looking backward. Plushenko’s point is that the old scoring system made the quad more profitable. Lysacek’s attitude is that the quad is just one element of many. Still, both of these guys seem like nice guys who are serious about their sport, and either of them is worthy of the gold medal.