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February 9, 2014

Russia can lock up team skating title

SOCHI, Russia — In Russia’s storied figure skating history, Evgeni Plushenko is already one of the greats.

Now there’s a new way to win an Olympic medal in the sport, and the three-time medalist might be the one who propels Russia to victory — and what could turn out to be the first gold of these Sochi Games for the host nation.

How appropriate would it be for it to come in a sport beloved in this country, in an event that measures a nation’s strength in figure skating across every discipline? The Russians lead the team competition going into today’s final session, when the men, women and ice dancers will skate their long programs.

With contenders to medal in the other three disciplines, Russia’s biggest potential weakness at the start of the team event was on the men’s side. Plushenko couldn’t even win his country’s national championships, finishing second to rising star Maxim Kovtun. Russian officials picked Plushenko for their only men’s spot after he skated for them at a closed-door session last month.

On Thursday, it looked like a brilliant move. Plushenko outskated three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada in the short program, a major swing in points for the two favorites in the new event.

Now Russia leads Canada 47-41 after all the short programs and Saturday’s pairs free skate.

“We’re probably not in the best position,” reigning ice dance gold medalist Scott Moir of Canada conceded after he and partner Tessa Virtue finished second in Saturday’s short dance to Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Plushenko faces a daunting task in repeating Thursday’s electrifying performance. The free skate is much more physically taxing than the short program, and the 31-year-old is coming off back surgery last spring. Since then, he’d skated in only one international event, a second-tier competition in Latvia.

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