February 17, 2006

Plushenko spins in class of his own

By Jane Barrett

TURIN (Reuters) - It is strange to come to the Olympics and
watch a one-horse race.

The world's greatest sporting event is famed for pitting
athletes at the top of their game against each other and for
throwing up more than the occasional surprise winner. But that
was far from the case at the men's figure skating in Turin.

Yevgeny Plushenko came in the absolute favorite, set up a
10 point lead after the short program and widened that to 27.12
in the free skate. He pummeled the competition.

For the last four years, the Russian skater has pushed the
boundaries of figure skating, living out the Olympic motto of
"Citius, Altius, Fortius" (Faster, Higher, Stronger).

"The quality of what he does is streets ahead of what
everybody else is doing -- across the board with his footwork,
spins and jumps," said former Olympic champion Robin Cousins.

On Thursday, Plushenko said he had no intention of giving
up now he has an Olympic gold so the question is: Who can take
him on and what do the other skaters have to do to close the

"I don't know," said American Johnny Weir, who ended fifth.
"Jump lots of quads? Even (do) seven in the long program?"

Plushenko was one of only two skaters in Turin to land all
their jumps and glean all the points that the lightning-speed
twists gain under figure skating's new judging system.

Other skaters were more balletic than Plushenko's somewhat
techno style but his skill in the air was second to none as he
regularly landed quads -- four spins through the air -- and
nailed two or three jumps one straight after the other.

"He has pushed skating more than anyone I can think of. His
consistency is incredible," said Canada's Jeffrey Buttle, who
picked up the bronze medal in Turin.

Plushenko has only been beaten twice since the Salt Lake
City Games despite injuring himself and having two groin
operations last year. In fact, he says he feels lighter and
more energetic since the surgery.

"To come back from that in this way is amazing," said
silver medallist Stefane Lambiel. "He is a big champion."