A GLAM SLAM TALKS CITI, SOCHI & SKATING WITH OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST EVAN LYSACEK
Evan Lysacek’s gold medal-winning figure skating performance was among the most memorable moments of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Though an injury kept the Olympic champ off-the-ice in Sochi, he was still a presence there, taking in the Games from a different perspective. His duties included serving as a correspondent for NBC’s “TODAY” show, tackling topics from skating to fashion.
Fans have also seen him appear in Citi’s “Every Step of the Way” campaign commercial, which aired throughout the Olympics. Since 2006, Lysacek has dedicated time to the Figure Skating in Harlem organization, helping young skaters to achieve success in the sport and beyond.
A Glam Slam caught up with Evan to talk about the Citi “Every Step of the Way” program, his experience in Sochi, figure skating results, and those famous Ralph Lauren Opening Ceremony sweaters. Check it out:
Can you talk about your involvement with Citi and the Figure Skating in Harlem organization?
My involvement with Citi and the Every Step of the Way program has been a special campaign for Sochi and the lead-up to the Games, and it has allowed me to include a sports organization that’s very close to my heart, Figure Skating in Harlem. I’ve worked with them since 2006 and the goal of the organization is to change the trajectory of young girls’ lives, by taking them out of underserved New York City areas and school systems and putting them into an exceptional curriculum academically, and then teaching them figure skating for physical fitness, but also through figure skating, the discipline, dedication, perseverance, and all those virtues that are necessary to succeed in life.
I first learned about Figure Skating in Harlem after the 2006 Olympics and I was invited to a gala and as soon as I saw the organization I said, how can I get more involved. There’s an obvious sense of relevance being a skater and having the figure skating tie, but more than that, I just got to know some of the girls and see how great they are and once I learned a few of their back stories and where they had come from, and then to meet them, I was just so impressed. And now I’ve seen first hand the incredible results of the organization. Girls have gone on to Ivy League universities, they’re really succeeding and they’re having opportunities that they ordinarily, most likely would not have had.
Citi is making a large contribution, half a million dollars, to nine different sports organizations tied to nine different athletes. We were all able to choose one organization to tie into the program. That donation, for Figure Skating in Harlem, has helped them to double in size. Citi chose Figure Skating in Harlem and me to be part of the ad campaign so that’s huge for those girls to have that boost in morale, to see the support of a company like Citi, and also to have their commercial air during the Olympic Games.
Since the start of the Winter Games, there were several stories about the conditions in Sochi among other factors. What was your experience like in Sochi?
It was very interesting. I think overall the Games will go down as one of the more interesting and fascinating Olympics of all time. Even going into Sochi, there was this extra layer of mystery because Russia is just culturally different than America and I think we still have a lot of curiosity about what life is like in Russia and so that added, to me, a little bit more interest in the Games. That mystery is what could’ve sparked some of those stories that were a bit controversial going in. There were a lot of story lines, a wide variety, but I think once the Games started, the stories really did focus on the athletes and their achievements and what was going on on the field of play.
Overall I would say the venues were spectacular. In all honesty, they were among the best I’ve ever seen. Conditions were great, the village was great, the food was great for the athletes, the organization was great for the athletes, security seemed to be well run. They definitely did a good job protecting what is most important about the Games.
You work closely with Ralph Lauren. The designer’s Opening Ceremony sweaters for Team USA stirred up quite a fashion conversation. Some fans liked them, others likened them to “ugly Christmas sweaters.” What were your thoughts on the cardigan style from a design standpoint?
I hear they’re selling for very large numbers now. I thought they were extremely effective and it was one of the more impressive marches that I remember, because it did look like a flag with the movement and the stars on the backs. I think the goal of the sweaters was definitely to have that very Americana effect walking, and the team looked really great. I’m going to wear mine, with a white t-shirt and jeans, I’ll actually wear it. I think it was very cool and more than being cool, is that it was effective.
The women’s figure skating competition results sparked controversy, especially with regards to the judging. What were your thoughts on how it all played out?
I think it was very fair and in any competition, you go in knowing that it’s all about who hits their run on that night and Adelina Sotnikova was spectacular. She was technically pretty far beyond Yuna and Carolina Kostner, it was more than just her doing one extra triple jump, it was that that triple jump happened to be more difficult than the one she repeated and it was in the second half of her program. She definitely had a technical strategy going in, to go for the technical mark and she won the technical mark. I think if you had that same competition play out with those same players ten times, every one of those ten times it would probably end differently. But this time she had the skate that was deserving of a gold medal.
The men’s skate was interesting as well, as it was marked by injuries and falls from the top competitors. What’s your take on those performances?
On the men’s side I would say that after Vancouver, the dial was turned 180 degrees from rewarding completely what you execute to rewarding completely what you attempt. I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of people going back to the drawing board within the International [Figure] Skating Unit to try to figure out what went wrong and where they can improve the judging to make it just a little more appealing I guess aesthetically. Because as much as it has become very technical, it’s still an aesthetic sport. The fact of the matter is the results were right in the men’s event. Yuzuru Hanyu still executed the most difficulty technically, but he had those falls and to a viewer that takes away from what he did and they wouldn’t necessarily know that what he still executed was more difficult. Other countries have been a little bit more progressive in educating their viewers about the judging and scoring and the points and where they come from and the complexities, and we just haven’t done that. In a way, if this Olympics did anything it told us that the viewers are actually craving that information, they want to know what’s going on.
Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski made a splash in Sochi both for their analysis and for their fashion choices. What did you think of their on-air expertise? Is commentating a route that you would consider in the future?
I was there for most of it, so I didn’t see the coverage, I saw the primetime. I’m sure they did a great job, because I have heard they did a great job with their commentating.
Good question, I don’t know. I think my involvement in skating has been solely as a competitive athlete and it’s because that’s what I love most about the sport, the competitive nature of it and the achievement. For me, being in Sochi was pretty painful, it was difficult to be there and not be involved in the way that I wanted to be involved. I think part of getting over that for me will be figuring out what my role is in the sport, if i can get back after injury and still be a competitive athlete or if I have to transition to a role in a different capacity.
Other than figure skating, which Olympic events did you enjoy watching most?
I love it all. I always have been and continue to be inspired by the stories of the Olympics. I love the snowboard and ski cross, I like the hockey, I got to go to a couple of games while I was in Sochi. I love the downhill events. They’re crazy and I love to ski so I can appreciate the speed. I’d say overall I like more of the classic sports of the Olympics.
Social media has become a huge factor as it relates to the Olympic Games. Following a gold medal performance, or even silver or bronze, athletes are receiving a surge in followers and praise from Hollywood celebrities to the President. They become instant celebrities themselves. How was the social media aspect of the Games different for you, when competing in Vancouver in 2010?
2010 I would say was just beginning to really escalate and I know that London was really the height of social media, or at least it felt it, and now maybe Sochi has become the new level. In Vancouver, we still were being very cautious about social media and I know for me, I shut it all down until I was completely finished competing. A lot of athletes I know, because I follow them, so I noticed they still did that. They were not active for the course of the competition and then afterwards of course they started to engage again. I guess its been interesting to see what different athletes’ approach was. I was taken aback seeing athletes taking and posting selfies because I was surprised they were focusing at all on social media before, just because it’s so different than the approach that I took. And then they would win and I was like wow, that’s impressive that they can be that engaged the whole time. Different strokes for different folks I guess.
Who would you say are some of the Team USA figure skaters to watch, as we look forward to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang?
Without a doubt I’d say Gracie Gold. She joins a lot of Olympic champions that I know that were fourth. I was fourth and I remember when I was fourth and had a hard time, someone sent me the list of all the Olympians that came in fourth in their first Games. I hope that that’s a telling sign, that she’ll have some great success in 2018 in Pyeongchang. I wrote her a message and said be ready, the next four years will fly by because once you set your sights beyond making the team, on getting the gold medal, it’s another level of focus and the time flies. I’m looking forward to watching Gracie Gold definitely. And I really like Polina Edmunds, I think she’s refreshing. She’s just very likable and she’s also really good. It’ll be interesting to see the progression of those two girls over the next several years.
And then on the men’s side, I think Jason Brown definitely had a good experience in Sochi, but is looking forward to Pyeongchang and so this was sort of a bonus for him, to have an Olympics under his belt when his time comes. Hopefully there will be some good new men’s talent that comes up and support him.