Evgeni Plushenko’s second comeback to eligible figure skating turned out to be as triumphant as the first one at the 2012 Russian National Figure Skating Championships. The 2006 Olympic champion currently leads the field ahead of training mate Artur Gachinski and last year’s bronze medalist Zhan Bush.
Skating to music arranged by his long-time collaborator Edvin Marton, Plushenko did not appear to be a day older than he had been at this event two years ago. His strongest points remain the same: power, attack, and charisma to spare. Surprisingly, his weakest points were the jumps.
The 29-year-old failed to attach the second jump to his opening quad toe loop, and with no steps preceding it, the element received a negative Grade of Execution (GOE). He also was only able to improvise a triple-double combination later in the program. Still, the eight-time national champion currently leads the field with 88.24 (42.30/45.94) points on the strength of his program components score.
The panel did not quite agree on the numerical value: Plushenko earned a few 9.75s, but no10s. In addition, someone on the panel gave him as low as 7.50 for transitions. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that his performance overall deserved the highest score of the night.
The skater himself remained grounded and critical of his performance.
“First of all I have to say that I am happy to make a comeback,” he said at the post event press conference. “I am happy that I was able to finish the program. It was very emotional in places. Today I skated with pleasure, but it was very hard for me. I have not competed in a while. The atmosphere was great and the adrenaline rush was unbelievable.”
“I would like to say ‘thank you very much’ to all my friends,” added Plushenko, who received more presents and flowers than all competitors combined. “Many of them attended the competition today. I would also like to say ‘thank you very much’ to all my enemies. Many of them also attended the competition today. Without their constant criticism, with only praises from fans, one would never achieve anything.”
“Naturally, I am not in my best shape right now,” he admitted. “I underwent a surgery and I have been receiving injections. I am happy that I have made a decent attempt on a quad and that I did a good Axel. I did good spins and I am very happy with how the warm up went for me. I landed a strong quad during it.”
“Everything was great,” said Plushenko. “Of course I still have a lot of things to work on. A lot of things. But mostly, my only wish for the New Year is good health. I am certainly very willing to keep on skating, to keep competing, I do have a goal and a dream, but I need to be in good health in order to be able to achieve it.”
When asked whenever he counts his rivals here, especially Artur Gachinski, among his aforementioned enemies, he was very quick to deny the allegations.
“He is a friend and a rival,” he said. “I have a lot positive feeling towards him, and in many aspects, I have to catch up with him. Therefore, it is great that I train alongside with him and that we share the same coach. It is very pleasant and highly motivational to see young skaters, including Artur, to put pressure on me. It is great to have such a sparring partner, but he is not my enemy. Even should he defeat me.”
“I had a long career and won a lot of titles,” Plushenko explained, “so this season, even a potential defeat would not bother me. The main competitions are still ahead. I recently had a surgery. It is already a victory for me that I am skating here, no matter what the result would be, even should the quality of skating not be so great. It is a lot of risk for me to have the National Championships as the first event after a long break.”
“It is hard for me to compete, very hard,” revealed Plushenko. “You forget how to set yourself up for the event and you loose your skills as a competitor, and besides I am 29 now. Previously, I could get away with merely half-an-hour of warm up, now I have to do it for a much longer time. So everything is much harder for me now, but I do believe that the best things are still ahead and I am in a very positive frame of mind.”
Artur Gachinski indeed presented a good challenge and nearly matched Plushenko on the technical score. He landed a quad-double combination and received level four on most of his spins and a step sequence in contrast to level three for Plushenko. With a very strong performance, Gachinski was able to focus more on presentation and did a good job of selling his Saint Louis Blues routine. However, in terms of sheer command over the audience, he was no match for the leader. He is currently second with 83.62 (42.09/41.43) points.
“I think I skated pretty well today,” said the 2011 World bronze medalist. “I did all the elements clean and displayed strong emotions. I really enjoyed the audience’s support and would like to thank them for it. I am happy that I was able to land a quad as it was hit-and-miss at the practice today. All other elements were also good and I got good levels for them. In short, I am happy with the job I did today and I hope to keep it up tomorrow.”
The student of Alexei Mishin, who worked with Tom Dickson and Stéphane Lambiel on his choreography and presentation, admitted that it was a great learning experience for him.
“It was something quite different,” he said. “They have such phenomenal skating skills and command of their bodies. Just to see how they could push once and complete a circle and a half is great. I would really like to learn to use edges and to spin like them.”
The 18-year-old claims that he is not intimidated by competing against Plushenko.
“It is a great honor for me, because he is my hero,” said Gachinski. “I’ve always looked up to him and I will do my best to challenge him. Even though I am second right now, I am not upset. I realize that I lack his power and his skating skills. It is still something I have to work on. I am not intimidated. In fact, it is very interesting to compete against him. I have tremendous respect for him both on and off the ice. He is a great person, but in competition we are rivals. I do not know when I will be able to defeat him, but I would like to think that this day will come soon.”
Bush posted the highest technical score of the night and is currently third with 81.81 (42.74/39.07) points. He nailed the opening quad toe loop – triple toe loop combination, but later had a shaky landing on his triple Axel attempt.
“I also think that I did a good job today,” said the student of Alexei Urmanov. “I did all the jumps well with only minor mistakes. Overall, the most important thing is that my coach is satisfied with my performance. It is great that I have been able to pull myself together and show all the things we have been working on. I would like to thank the audience for their support. It was very pleasant and I did not expect that I would be so well received. It gave me extra power and emotions and it helped me to attack the quad and the triple Axel. I am happy with the way I skated.”
Artur Dmitriev delivered one of the most engaging performances of the night to finish fourth with 79.69 (40.83/38.86) points. Even though the student of Elena Byuanova did not attempt a quad, his non-stop routine to music from the Beetlejuice soundtrack did not afford the skater a chance to catch a breath.
Sergei Voronov underrotated his quad attempt to finish fifth with 76.35 points, while defending champion Konstantin Menshov popped a planned quad toe loop into a triple and later doubled the Lutz to finish sixth (74.19).