Thursday, February 6, 2014
Plushenko keeps Russia in medal hunt
By Bonnie D. Ford
SOCHI, Russia -- The last time Evgeni Plushenko skated with anything at stake, it was behind closed doors, a special exam to convince Russian officials he deserved to claim the lone men’s spot available at the Winter Games.
He succeeded, although it's hard to imagine this born showman turning in his best effort before a small audience. Thursday, he performed for an adoring -- if not sold-out -- crowd, and kept his country in the hunt for a medal in the new team event.
Skating in his four Olympics, Plushenko is hoping to lead Russia to a medal in the new team event.
If Russia reaches the podium as expected, it will be a group effort, but the 2006 Olympic champion used a lot of first-person pronouns as he spoke to reporters at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
"I already won for myself -- I am skating in my fourth Olympics," said an obviously content Plushenko. He basked in an ovation after scoring 91.39 points in the short program, taking a tour of the rink before repairing to the kiss-and-cry area.
"It doesn’t matter, the result. In the end, it’s the Olympics."
However, Plushenko knows very well how much the outcome matters to Russia, which is on the rebound in its traditional stronghold after being shut out of gold medals four years ago in Vancouver. A team medal of any color would get the Winter Games off to a good start for the host country.
As the only Russian man in this event, Plushenko will have to compete in the free skate as well. His raw score, eclipsed only by the numbers posted by the sublime Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, doesn’t carry over to the free skate. But the nine points out of a possible 10 that he earned with his second-place finish -- along with a first place by the pairs duo of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov -- puts Russia in an excellent position going into the women’s and dance short programs.
At 31, with aches and pains that have not been fully solved by multiple surgeries, there's been much back-and-forth speculation about whether he would withdraw from the individual event, some of it fueled by Plushenko himself. Asked the million-ruble question Thursday, he said, "I will try, of course."