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Teen Hanyu upstages Plushenko Russia in control

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 6, (AFP): Yevgeny Plushenko rolled back the years as the Russian veteran helped the Olympic hosts lead the new team skating competition but Japanese teen Yuzuru Hanyu stole the show on Thursday night. Defying his age and years of surgery, Plushenko, 31, placed second in the men’s short programme in the Iceberg Skating Palace behind an inspired Hanyu, 19, but world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov put Russia top when they later waltzed to the lead in the pairs event. Russia lead with 19 points with Canada second on 17 and China sitting two points behind. Japan are fourth with 13 points despite Hanyu’s heroics in the men’s event as their pairs duo Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara placed just seventh in the ten-team field. Germany, France and the United States have 10 points each.

Plushenko pushed his body to the limit with a quad-triple toeloop combination, followed by a triple axel and triple lutz in his “Tango de Roxanne” from the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack. “After 12 surgeries on my body that I can skate in a fourth Olympics is great,” said Plushenko, who has undergone surgery on his spine and knees in recent years. The 2006 Olympic champion then joined his Russian teammates rinkside to cheer on the pairs and Volosozhar and Trankov did not disappoint bringing the crowd to their feet as they sealed the lead with the ladies and ice dance short programmes to come on Saturday.

“It’s very hard to come back especially for the Olympics,” admitted Plushenko, also a two-time Olympic medallist, who had been controversially selected for the Russian team. “It’s hard to compete at home, but sometimes it helps. When I came on the ice, there, from there and from there, everywhere everybody was screaming and shouting. I was a bit shocked. I felt kind of dizzy,” he added, of the intense pressure and frenzied chants of “Zhenya” (his nickname) and “Russia” in the 12,000-seater stadium which was three-quarters full.

Hanyu gave an electric performance to “Parisian Walkways” by Gary Moore, once again setting himself up as a contender for gold ahead of three-time world champion Patrick Chan who finished third after a botched landing on a triple axel jump in his skate to Rachmaninov’s “Elegie” in E Flat Minor. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford placed second in the pairs to lift the Canadians into second. “Plushenko to me is a hero and it felt great just to take to the same ice as him. I gave it everything I had today,” said Hanyu. His Canadian coach Brian Orser said he had found the right balance in a competition which is taking place for the first time. “Coming here, his psyche was this performance,” said Orser.

“It’s so strange for all of us — for the athletes, for the coaches. All afternoon I didn’t know how to handle it. You can’t tell them to hold back.” Hanyu scored 97.98 points, not far off the world record he holds, with Plushenko achieving a personal best 91.39, marginally higher than his previous best 91.30 achieved in 2010. Chan, 23, scored early ten points below his personal best with 87.71. “It wasn’t the best, obviously,” said Chan. “All of the jumps weren’t great but, in a way, I’m glad I did that here. It was good to get the jitters out.”

Chan revealed however he will not compete in the men’s free skate final of the team event with Kevin Reynolds representing Canada on Sunday. The United States, world team trophy winners in 2009 and 2013, struggled with Jeremy Abbott having an error-strewn performance and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir faring little better. “I’m torn about it,” said a tearful Abbott, who took to the ice after Plushenko. “I could feel the pulse in the audience and I could hear the silence in my head. I’ve had my Olympic disaster and I can move on.” The ladies short programme, the ice dance short dance and the pairs free skate final will take on Saturday with men’s and women’s free skating and three team ice dance final on Sunday.

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