The Evgeni Plushenko comeback train is barreling down the tracks. Plushenko won a record eighth Russian title over the weekend in Saint Petersburg. Despite being hampered by an injured knee he cruised to victory. His nearest competitor, two-time time (2008, ’09) Russian champion Sergei Voronov, finished over 30 points behind the reigning Olympic champion.
“I can mark my performance with three points out of five, maximum,” Plushenko told the press after the competition. “I was practicing only one week before the Russian championships. Now I need to rehabilitate completely [for] the European Championships to gain my top form for the Olympics.”
Plushenko, a five-time European champion, compiled a score of 271.59 en route to the top of podiumin in Saint Petersburg. The scoring seemed quite generous but given Plushenko could have easily skipped the event due to his knee injury (he has a slightly torn ligament in his left knee), it was a major triumph.
His agent Ari Zakarian told IFS prior to the competition, “He doesn’t want a bye. He wants to earn his spot [on Russia’s Olympic team]. Right now his life is train, rest and sleep. He is in competition mode. I see him every day. It is amazing to see him and the change from last spring to now.”
SEEMINGLY PADDED SCORE
After the competition, it appeared that Plushenko seemed aware that his marks may have been padded. “To be honest it was not perfect skating. … I would like to thank the judges for the bonus but it definitely was not the presentation of the true Olympic level, but now I know what direction I shall move to reach it,” he said.
Prior to this past autumn, Plushenko had not competed since the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Italy. In September and October, he competed domestically. He had one Grand Prix Series assignment, Rostelecom Cup in Russia (formerly Cup of Russia) which he easily won.
Then Plushenko injured his knee. "He basically injured his knee from over-training,” Zakarian said. "He has a lot of pressure on him.”
Plushenko is well known for his impressive jumps but under the International Judging System has faced criticism about his transitions, footwork and overall artistic presentation. That fact has not been lost on the 27-year-old, Zakarian said. “He is working on his footwork, his speed, new elements and his jumps. He is feeling pretty good,” Zakarian said. “He will come back strong.”
Zakarian added that the three-time World champion (2001, ’03, and ’04) is aware that has been some criticism about his comeback. “He is putting that behind him. … When he started skating, it was under a different system,” said Zakarian about Plushenko who won the Olympic silver medal in 2002 under the old judging system and his Olympic title under the new system. “It is impossible for him to completely change his skating. He will never spin like (Stephane Lambiel) or do spirals [like some other skaters] but he is trying for the judges and trying to do his best.
“Evgeni is doing some impressive things. If everything goes well [physically, his appearance at] the Olympics will be sensational.”
A PHYSICAL MATTER
Plushenko believes his chances of repeating as Olympic champion are very good. “If there are no politics and his physical condition is good, I think he will be fine,” his long-time agent said.
And while he is working on his artistic presentation, he is still planning on landing the big jumps. Plushenko plans to do two quads in his long program in Vancouver.
Plushenko watched the Grand Prix Final earlier this month. “He appreciates the skaters who were going for quads,” Zakarian said. “He hopes the judges can change their expectations and appreciate different things.
“Evgeni’s message is to move the sport into a high level of difficulty. There are always people who are going to say that is how skaters get injured. But his message is to show that figure skaters can show grace and be strong, masculine and physical like Elvis Stojko, Brian Boitano and Kurt Browning were.
“Four years ago when he was skating at the Olympics, the skaters competing were [doing bigger jumps]. That bothers him. He plans to do a quad-triple Lutz combo that will be amazing.”
Zakarian said Plushenko is looking beyond Vancouver as well. He has his sights set on competing in 2014 when the Olympic Games will be held in Russia.
At nationals, it appears Plushenko was still working out some kinks with his programs. In his long program, he went with a triple jump to open the program (instead of a quad) but later in the program landed a quad and five clean triples. The victory earned Plushenko a spot on Russia’s Olympic team. It will be his third appearance at an Olympic Games.
After putting down a stellar short program, Voronov struggled during his free skate (Plushenko won the short with 100.09 points followed by Voronov with 95.64) in Saint Petersburg. Voronov skated well enough to hold on to his short program placement and claim the silver medal. It seems likely that Voronov will be chosen for Russia’s second men’s spot for Vancouver.
Voronov finished the competition with 240.01 points while bronze medalist Artem Borodulin scored 234.92.
MAKAROVA GOLDEN IN LADIES
In the ladies discipline, Ksenia Makarova, who turned 17 on Dec. 20, seemed to come out of nowhere and walked away golden with an overall score of 178.90. Last year she was fifth at Russian nationals at the junior level.
Alena Leonova, 19, claimed the silver medal with a score of 175.89. The second-place finish had to be a disappointment to Leonova who won the World junior title last year, earned two medals on the 2009-10 senior Grand Prix Series this fall, and earned a spot in the 2009-10 Grand Prix Final earlier this month. Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (173.53) took the bronze.
DOMNINA AND SHABALIN CLAIM THIRD TITLE
In ice dancing, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin climbed to the top of the podium with 214.77 points. It was their third Russian title. They also won the event in 2005 and 2007. They are the 2009 World champions and the 2008 European champions.
Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Solovyev were second with 189.22 points, while Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Shefer placed third (188.46pts).
KAVAGUTI AND SMIRNOV GOLDEN AGAIN
The pairs title went to Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksandr Smirnov with 220.61 points. It was their third consecutive Russian title. Maria Mukhortova and Maksim Trankov were second with 208.78 points, 30 points ahead of Vera Bazarova and Yury Larionov.