Whether he's on the ice or on the dance floor, Evan Lysacek is a star.
Nowhere is that more evident than in his hometown of Naperville, which is celebrating Evan Lysacek Day on Friday by rolling out the red carpet for the returning figure skating sensation a month after he won Olympic gold in Vancouver.
The 24-year-old is the first American man to accomplish the feat since Brian Boitano in 1988. His Olympic glory marks the crowning achievement on a long list of accolades Lysacek has garnered since first putting on skates at the age of 8.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Lysacek will see how well he can translate his skating prowess to the ballroom as he competes in "Dancing with the Stars," which premiered this week on ABC.
Hometown fans also will have the chance to see him doing what he does best when he performs in Smucker's Stars on Ice on May 8 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
In the meantime, Lysacek says he's looking forward to his visit with friends, family and neighbors Friday so he can thank them for their support.
He will start his day with a series of television interviews and then head to his alma mater, Neuqua Valley High School in south Naperville, to meet with thousands of students during an assembly that's closed to the public.
He'll also spend time Friday with the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and at a fundraiser for the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund.
The general public's best chance to catch a glimpse will come during a public rally at 3:45 p.m. at the foot of the Millennium Carillon along Naperville's downtown Riverwalk. In case of inclement weather, the rally will move inside to North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall at 171 E. Chicago Ave., also in downtown.
Lysacek spoke to the Daily Herald before his visit. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Q. How do you feel about coming home to Naperville and getting the key to the city?
A. I always love coming home. I wish I could get back to Naperville more. It's such a great city and was such a great place for me to grow up. It was an instrumental part of my development. (It will be great) to be able to go back not to just celebrate but to truly say "thank you" to people who helped me along the way. I think it is going to be really special and emotional.
How does it feel to win an Olympic gold medal?
A. It was just like a dream two weeks for me. Everything went right and everything went great.
I was trying to block out the thought of the results or the placement or medals and just focus on my job. I was totally prepared, totally ready. I've never been so ready for anything in my life.
I was able to just relax the day of the free skate; I was really calm. I did the best I possibly could and I got off the ice and I was so totally satisfied. That was all I needed. That made the last four years of my life totally worthwhile. To win on top of that was just really incredible.
It's something I never prepared myself for and it's taken a really long time to sink in. But everything that's come along since has been absolutely incredible and much more than I could have even hoped.
If you don't think about medals while skating, what does go through your head?
A. Most of the time I'm kind of on autopilot. It's a really intense training to be a skater - because we're trying to make it look easy - and if it looks hard, we're not really doing it very well.
I'm sort of thinking of specific technical things, like keeping my body in alignment, posture, when to really explode out of my legs and when to push hard and when to breathe.
But most of what I'm thinking is sort of positive thoughts. Usually after the actual start of the music it's like, "Let's do this, I'm so ready and this is what I've worked day in and day out for and don't hold anything back."
What was the strategy behind not doing a quadruple jump at the Olympics?
A. It wasn't really strategy. It was a medical issue because I had a stress fracture in my foot a year ago from the quad. I used to really like doing the quad and I thought it was important to put in every program, whether I fell or not.
It was fun for me. It was exciting until I fractured my foot working on that jump, and then it became very scary. I spent all last season wondering if I was going to be able to get through the season or if I was going to have to pull out of the championships because of my basically broken foot.
Around the end of November, beginning of December, my foot was building up, the strength, and I felt pretty good and secure on it, so I started working on quads again and wanted to do it at the Olympics. With the way I train, I did more and more and more of them to the point where my foot was starting to become injured again and I was having to take two to three days off a couple weeks in a row. I was just thinking: This isn't worth it. I don't want my Olympic Games to be the same as last year where I have an injury and I'm wondering if I'm going to make it through. I want a clear head and I want to be able to enjoy it.
That's why I decided, you know what, whether I win or lose it's not worth risking my health, risking me being able to walk to try just this one jump. It's just one step of many in the program and there are jumps in my program that are just as difficult, so I decided to focus on that.
Did the criticism from Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko take away from the experience?
A. It didn't take away from it at all. I've always been the type of athlete who minds my own business. The truth is, I really admire all my competitors, including him, and have looked up to him for a long time, so it stung a little.
It doesn't affect what was going on with me in Vancouver, but on a personal level I think - it almost stings more coming from someone you look up to.
I tried not to take it personally because I think maybe it hadn't sunk in yet (for him), the positivity of what he had done winning a third Olympic medal. I know for me it's taken a long time for my win to sink in.
How is "Dancing with the Stars" going?
A. It's going really well. The first week (of practice) was difficult because it's very different than skating. In the media I heard a lot of people before I started training saying, "Evan probably has an advantage, it's kind of like skating, a lot of what he does on the ice can probably translate."
I sort of started to believe that and went in thinking, "I'm probably going to be kind of good at this."
I wasn't good, so it's even more of a shock to me than other contestants because I was like, "This is really hard and I'm not picking it up at all."
What makes it difficult?
A. It's nothing like skating at all. They're completely different sports. It would be like saying what's different about soccer or basketball and skating. The medium is different because I'm on the floor obviously instead of being on the ice. My equipment is no longer there, it's just my feet.
On the ice, rotation is all counterclockwise, everything is to the left. On the dance floor, everything I do is to the right, so I'm really only familiar with turning and rotating in one direction.
Having a partner has probably been the biggest challenge and picking up those steps and counting is hard and doing that at the same time as your partner is really hard. I'm so used to being on my own and taking the steps and spending eight months making it my own, my own style, my own interpretation of it, and I can't do that with dancing. The steps are so different, but also I have to do them exactly the way they're meant to be, exact angle, exact step, exact timing.
Who do you think will wind up in the final three?
A. I don't know. There's a really, really talented cast. Everyone is very good. So far everyone is doing really well with the dancing. I learned a long time ago never to rule anyone out of the competition because every competitor has the potential to surprise you.
Do you have any favorite memories of your time growing up in Naperville?
A. I started skating close by in Glen Ellyn and I skated and trained for a long time at Seven Bridges (in Woodridge) and All Seasons (in Naperville). I had a great time at Neuqua Valley.
It's been such a great support system for me, the way the entire population of Naperville has gotten behind me and continued to support me wherever in the world I am living or training or competing. Not every town in the United States is that supportive. It's a unique thing.
I've heard you're enjoying Los Angeles. Do you think you'll ever move back to Naperville?
A. I think it would be difficult to find a better place to raise a family than Naperville.
For now my life is here, my work is here. I do a lot of work in Chicago and New York, but the bulk of it is in L.A. and my friends are here. This is where I'm going to stay, at least for the near future, but I'm not ruling out a move back east at some point and I think I probably will at some point.
You got some good reviews after you read the Top 10 list on "The Late Show with David Letterman." Are you going to pursue an acting career?
A. Thank you. I actually dabbled in it with a short independent film about five years ago. Living in L.A., I've been wanting to maybe give it a shot and see if I'm any good. I really haven't given it a fair shot just yet, but it's definitely one of my many interests that I'd like to pursue now that I can open up my focus to different areas.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get to this point in your career?
A. I've been driven by my goal, which was to win the Olympics. I think I was willing and happy to sacrifice everything to get there.
That made me feel good, but at the same time a lot of athletes are always looking for balance in their lives and that was something I never found. I never was able to really put anything ahead of skating and I sacrificed every holiday, every birthday, every night out with my friends, every opportunity that came my way.
I had several offers to do a variety of things and I just said no because it's going to take attention and energy away from my training. To accomplish my goal makes that more worthwhile, but had I not won and had I not had my best performance I still think I would have been totally satisfied. I had to know I couldn't have given anything more. That was something I absolutely had to know.
What advice do you have for young skaters who look up to you?
A. I think in any sport, hard work obviously is key and that's been probably the most important part of my success - understanding the correlation between hard work and success. But I also feel loving what you do is important.
Playing a sport is great, but once you start getting to a competitive or elite level you're going to have good days and you're going to have tough days. Truly loving what you do and that drive and passion to win coming from within yourself and not coming from any other source is what gets you through those tough times, what keeps you going and what keeps you working.
If there were no restrictions, what song would you want to skate to?
A. I really like the song "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson and it's always been one of my favorites because it's such a positive message.
In competition we can't have lyrics and you have to cater a lot to what you think is going to be a successful choice for the judges. But when I go on tour with Smucker's Stars on Ice, which I'm doing during the course of "Dancing with the Stars," - I can skate to any music I want and there's no rules and no limitations so that's the song I'm choosing to skate to.
Will we see you in the Olympics in four years?
A. That's hard to say because I wanted it so badly this time I was totally willing to sacrifice everything to get there. Now that I have it I don't know if I would necessarily want it as badly the second time. Maybe I would. I think that is something that will come with time.
I'll just have to take it month-to-month. I'm looking forward to a lot of opportunities that are coming my way in the next several months and I want to enjoy them and not be constantly thinking about what's next, what's next, what's next because that's kind of how I've lived my whole life.
Evan Lysacek will take a whirlwind victory tour through his hometown of Naperville as the city declares March 26, 2010, as Evan Lysacek Day.
9:15 -10:15 a.m. Distinguished alumni event at Neuqua Valley High School. Not open to the public.
12:30 -2:30 p.m. Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at White Eagle Club. Tickets are $25.
3:45 p.m. Public rally at the Millennium Carillon on Rotary Hill. Free. In case of inclement weather the rally will be in Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave.
Info: (630) 717-0716
5 -7 p.m. Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund reception at Rosebud Italian Specialties and Pizzeria, 48 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets are $25 and will be available at the door.
Source: U.S. Figure Skating's IceNetwork.com