Friday, March 28, 2003

Plushenko wins men's skating crown

By Barry Wilner
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Evgeni Plushenko is ready for all comers, including Alexei Yagudin.

Plushenko, 20, has chased countryman Yagudin since the 1998 Olympics, almost always losing out in the major events. Only in 2001, when Yagudin was skating hurt, did Plushenko beat him at worlds. But Olympic champion Yagudin, who was in the stands at the MCI Center on Wednesday night, is not competing this season because of a hip problem.

Plushenko, the silver medalist at the Salt Lake City Games, seized the opportunity and won his second World Figure Skating Championships title, hitting two quadruple jumps and six triples. He did a quad-triple-double combination as an opener.

So, bring on Yagudin?

"I'm not missing Yagudin," Plushenko said. "He's a great guy also. He is a good skater, and if he comes back, I'll skate with him. Why not?"

Not that Plushenko thinks he isn't being pushed by American Tim Goebel and Japan's Takeshi Honda. For the second straight year, they finished 2-3.

"C'mon guys, look at this," he said, pointing to Goebel and Honda. "There's two guys, Tim Goebel and Takeshi Honda, they skate today awesome. They did two quads. They were great."

But all the judges found Plushenko to be greater.

And he did it with a sore left knee, although he didn't take a pain-killing injection, as he said he might.

"It's nicer to win the second time," he said. "There was a lot of pressure. It was hard. I am very tired right now."

Plushenko under-rotated a triple flip and had some shaky landings. His surpassing artistry, however, made a huge difference, and he received nothing but 5.9s for presentation.

Goebel stuck with his old reliable "An American in Paris" routine that won him bronze at the Olympics and silver at worlds last year. The program fits him so snugly now that if he never abandoned it, that would be understandable.

"I am very comfortable with it, and that is really the main reason for not using the new one," he said. "Not having the summer and the early fall to train (because of a hip injury), I couldn't get the quality and consistency that I already had in this program.

"It was an easy decision to go back to it."

More animated than usual - he even wore a smile a minute into the program and appeared to have tears in his eyes as he finished - Goebel was spot-on with his jumps. That, of course, is not unusual.

Goebel, who skated around the ice waving an American flag and wearing a huge grin after the medals ceremony, hit two quads, one in combination, two triple axels and seven triples in all. Goebel lingered longer than usual before leaving the ice, waving a pair of beanie babies to the crowd as he departed.

His marks ranged from 5.7 to 5.8, and Goebel was thrilled with another silver to conclude a distressing year marked by the injury and a flop in the free skate at nationals that dropped him behind Michael Weiss.

"It's been such a hard year for me," he said. "Last year I had so much success, and this year started off injured and then I had a disastrous nationals.

"I'm just so happy to bounce back from that."

Weiss, skating before his hometown crowd in an event he has pointed to for years, had a difficult time from the outset. His planned quadruple toe loop turned into a triple. He also stepped out of another quad and cut a triple axel to a double.

When he headed off the ice, the native of nearby McLean, Va., had a stoic look. He also had fifth place.

"This one didn't end the way I wanted it to, but I got a lot accomplished," said Weiss, who at 26 is considering competing again next season. "I'll keep swinging, and I'll get it right."

Honda, skating first in the final group, had a sensational flash of footwork to finish off his routine to "Riverdance." But he also stepped out of a quad toe loop that would have led off a combination jump, and several spins were short.

The Japanese star stood shaking his head when his music was over, and his marks of 5.4 through 5.8 reflected those errors.

Still, he was third again.

Ryan Jahnke, at 25 making his world championships debut, had a rough free skate and slipped to 13th. Still, he found a positive side to the week.

"This entire week has been a really good week for me. I am glad I got the grasp of it," he said. "It was real positive pretty much up until this performance."

Earlier, Russia's Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh, the defending champions, edged Canada's Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, in the original dance. Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were seventh, one spot in front of five-time national champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev.

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