By Mandi Bierly
Updated February 17, 2010 at 03:56 PM EST

The men’s is the deepest figure skating field at the Vancouver Games, and last night’s short programs showed why. Less than a point now separates Russia’s Yevgeny Plushenko, America’s Evan Lysacek (our Olympic Stud of the Day), and Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi going into Thursday’s medal-deciding free skate (8 p.m., NBC). Let’s take a closer look:

• While defending gold medalist Plushenko’s performance was obviously good, I’m obsessed with the package NBC ran on him before it. I’m pretty sure the editor of it is using it as an audition reel for the fourth Bourne film. (Yevgeny did his interview driving the fast car he bought when he missed the risk of competitive figure skating.) I’m surprised they didn’t try to get him to say, “I must break you,” because clearly, we’re supposed to hate him as much as we did Ivan Drago. In fact, I was waiting for Rocky IV‘s “Training Montage” score to start. Or, the Jaws theme. The music was so ominous, at one point, there was the sound of lightning! He likes that he strikes fear in the eyes of his opponents. He’s a villain… but he’s still a figure skater. Points to him for the cocky swashbuckling after his skate (pictured, far left). Deduction though for the poorly-matched skin-tone dickie.

• Because of the sideburns and the collar on his costume, I kept thinking Takahashi (pictured, center) was going to be skating to Elvis. He didn’t, but in the immortal words of Sandra Bezic, “That was hot!”. (Watch.) He’s got the jumps, the personality, the ability to pull off an incredibly busy top half of a costume, and an interesting backstory. Not the knee injury, but this from his NBC bio: “Began skating because his parents thought he cried too much as a child.” I want him to medal and I want him to bawl!

• The self-destruction of heavage-loving, studly Clay Aiken-looking US champ Jeremy Abbott was painful to watch. (Did you notice that even the Olympic worker with him afterward as he did an interview had tears in her eyes?). But really, what is more humiliating: singling your quad, doubling your axel, and eliciting the “Ugh” from Scott Hamilton, or sitting in 15th, one step below Italy’s overalls wearing hottie Samuel Contesti (pictured, right). Canadians really are the nicest people on Earth, clapping along to his hillbilly/hobo blues number even though he was dressed like an extra in the opening scene of The Jerk. He was worst-dressed, right? Or does someone want to argue in favor of Belgium’s Kevin van der Perren, who borrowed the Cobra Kai’s skeleton Halloween costumes from The Karate Kid and added sequins? (Watch.) Confession: I love Johnny Weir’s attitude (ending with a “take this” kiss), but I hated the tassel even if he rocked it and it looked good in slo-mo. He sits in sixth. I will say that Weir is the only one who truly pulls off the gloved look. What is up with all the gloves? Sure, they have a dramatic effect, but if you’re not as passionate as Lysacek was, it just draws attention to the fact. Another confession: Evan’s costume kind of annoys me, too. His long, lean frame looks stunning on the ice, but even in all black, his torso is too busy: sequins, feathers, velvet, sheer. I wouldn’t lose the feather cuffs though: They build a little nest for his face when he holds it in his hands, as he did when he took an emotional knee after his personal best program last night.

• Skater’s skater Stephane Lambiel (5th) caught my eye at the opening ceremony for his polished performance as Switzerland’s flag bearer, and after seeing the Torino silver medalist’s joyous “Wilhelm Tell” skate, it makes perfect sense. When you have Scott Hamilton calling your footwork “insane,” you know it’s something special. And if he’d asked me to marry him a second after completing that end combination spin, I would’ve said yes. Speaking of spins, this would also be a good time to note that combination spins look badass when performed to Jimi Hendrix. Nicely done, Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka (8th).

• I’m beginning to feel bad for every Canadian athlete. The weight is on their shoulders, none more so than 19-year-old Patrick Chan, who’s trying to bring the country its first gold in men’s. (Pause for fellow fans of Kurt Browning to remember his Olympic disappointments. And yes, Sandra, we could totally tell he’d choreographed the footwork sequence for Canada’s Vaughn Chipeur, who, side note, has great hair.) If Chan hadn’t gotten that one point deduction for finishing after his music, he would’ve been in sixth instead of Weir and made the final group for the free skate. He wanted a challenging Olympics. Here’s hoping he still gets a happy ending with a clean program that would make his late 90-year-old first coach proud.

• Lastly, we have to thank Czech Republic’s 19-year-old Michal Brezina (9th). Not for skating to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” — I groaned, but technically my toe was tapping. But for his youth, which made Scott Hamilton so bitter. Watching him breeze through his footwork, Hamilton shouted, “That’s really hard! That’s really hard!” For Scott’s sake, one of the teens better lose steam at the end of his free skate Thursday and struggle through his straight line. Fingers crossed it’s not Brezina, because I imagine he’d be fun to hang with in the Olympic village. I’d insist the coach in the red glasses tag along.

Your turn. What did you think of the short programs? Who will take gold: Plushenko, Lysacek, or Takahashi?

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Photo credit: Plushenko: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images; Takahashi: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images; Contesti: UPI/Brian Kersey/Landov