Russia expects as Plushenko prepares for glory

February 18, 2010

OLYMPICS-FIGURE SKATING/Millions of Russians will be setting their alarm clocks a little earlier than usual on Friday morning.

The patriotic inhabitants of the world’s largest country are desperate to see Yevgeny Plushenko bring home the cherished gold medal in the men’s free skate at the Winter Olympics later today.

The flamboyant blond-haired veteran holds a narrow lead over his rivals at the competition’s half way stage, and all of Russia is willing him to victory.

Plushenko’s story has all the makings of a great Olympic drama. The 34-year-old retired from the sport following his landmark Olympic win in the same competition in Turin in 2006, but upset by a perceived decline in a proud Russian figure skating tradition he announced his intention to defend his title and with it Russian honour this year.

His dazzling performance in the opening round stunned a worldwide audience, while the withdrawal of an imaginary sword in his final flourish perfectly captured his warrior-like dominance and virility.

His extreme self confidence does not end there. Plushenko has been tearing into his rivals since his arrival in Vancouver, typically on his favourite topic — his ability to execute the quadruple mid-air spin which he believes is the hallmark of greatness. He was the only competitor to even attempt this in the first round and was withering in his verdict on those who stuck with the safer triple-spin. “I did triples in 1994,” he scoffed.

His mind games appear to have worked on his current closest rival, the American Evan Lysacek.  “I used to really enjoy training the quad … until I broke my foot and then it became less fun to train and more scary,” he told reporters.  Scary? Is this the spirit of an Olympic Champion?

Back in Russia, Plushenko is a man who sometimes divides opinion. While no one disputes his status as a world class sportsman, some of his costumes and off rink antics are not considered worthy of a national figurehead.  He has skated in a body builder fancy dress costume, and danced on a mini ice-rink during the Russian entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2008.  His lively performance – now a youtube hit – may have been the deciding factor in Dima Bilan’s victory — making Plushenko almost certainly the only man to win the coveted Eurovision Song Contest and Olympic Gold double. He went on to marry Bilan’s producer.

But Russians will be putting all that aside this Friday. It has been a miserable Olympics for the former winter-sports powerhouse, with only one Gold achieved in the games to date and the surrendering of the pairs figure skating title for the first time since 1964.  

“(Plushenko’s win) is very very important. It brings us assurance that we are still worth something that we are still able to win gold,” said one avid Russian ice-skating fan and former competitor.

PHOTO: Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia sits next to his wife Yana Rudkovskaya after the men’s short programme figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics February 16, 2010. REUTERS/David Gray

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