Weir falters, finishes 5th


TURIN, Italy -- Even if Johnny Weir had skated his best, he wouldn't have challenged Russia's Evgeni Plushenko last night at the Palavela for the men's figure skating gold medal. Plushenko's lead after the short program two nights before was too commanding and his performance in the free skate too steady, if less than brilliant.

But Weir, of Newark, Del., never even gave himself a chance for the silver medal that had been his to lose after the short program. He forgot to check an updated bus schedule at the athletes' village and arrived at the arena later than he likes, left several important elements out of his program and then stormed off the ice as though he had someone to blame other than himself.

He couldn't blame the judges. They gave him the sixth-best score for the long program, dropping the U.S. national champion to fifth overall. That was one place behind Evan Lysacek of Naperville, Ill., and two places ahead of Matt Savoie of Peoria, Ill.

It was the third time in the past four Winter Olympics that U.S. men have failed to win a medal. Since Brian Boitano's victory in Calgary in 1988, U.S. men have won two medals, a silver by Paul Wylie in 1992 and a bronze by Timothy Goebel in 2002.

Meantime, Russia continued to dominate. Plushenko's win was the fifth straight for a skater from the former Soviet Union or Russia. Plushenko, who had more than a 10-point lead over Weir after Tuesday night's short program, finished with 258.33 points, the highest ever scored by almost seven points.

That was an astonishing 27.12 points better than Swiss silver medalist Stephane Lambiel's 231.21 and more than 30 points ahead of Canadian bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle's 227.59.

It couldn't have thrilled them to hear Plushenko, 23, say that he plans to return for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

Yet, despite Plushenko's record-setting scores and overwhelming victory, his skating was not as inspiring as it had been in the short program. Weir said after that performance that Plushenko could lose only if he fell three times in the freestyle program, and Plushenko seemed to skate with that in mind.

The silver medalist in 2002, he front-loaded his program with his most difficult combinations - a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop-double axel and a triple axel-double toe loop. From that point on, he skated cautiously, as if it were a foregone conclusion that the gold medal belonged to him. It did, of course.

Not that it mattered to him, but none of the other medal contenders skated well.

That was particularly true of Weir. It was clear almost from the moment he started that he was not at his best. He chose not to attempt a quadruple jump, two-footed a triple axel and omitted the last three planned jumps from his program.

He blamed transportation officials for changing the bus schedule. He managed to get a car to the arena and arrived only 40 minutes before he skated, at least 20 minutes later than he usually likes to be there. He said he then had difficulty fitting into his tight costume and never got comfortable. He finished with 216.63 points.

"I didn't feel my inner peace," he said. "I didn't feel like my aura was white. My biorhythms were off. I was black inside."

The U.S. skater who had an excuse to be off was Lysacek, who came down with a stomach flu Wednesday and considered withdrawing as late as the bus ride to the arena last night. He had fallen in the short program and been ranked 10th, but he improved six places with a long program judged third best. His total score was 220.13.

"It's hard because I dreamed about the Olympics for probably upwards of a decade," Lysacek said.

"That didn't include coming down with the stomach flu and having needles in my arms and being basically in a coma for a day or falling in the short program. But it kind of became about something a little different, about courage."

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