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Borscht belts: Březina feels Plushy's time is past

Hackensack sends off Olympians; Wagner's Delilah classes it up
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Michal Březina (right) is on record as saying other men's skaters will outshine Evgeni Plushenko at these Olympics. -Getty Images

After an early practice in Sochi, Patrick Chan, Canada's three-time world champion, told reporters that while Evgeni Plushenko might be a bit of a distraction, he thought the Russian would not be a strong rival for gold.

Czech Michal Březina, the 2013 European bronze medalist who placed fourth in Europe this season, agrees with Chan.

"Plushenko is a great skater; I just feel like he's not going to be the main star," Březina, 23, said. "I think this Olympics is going to really be about Patrick and Yuzuri [Hanyu] and Javi [Fernández] and a lot of other skaters."

"I talked about this with other people [at the European championships] in Budapest, and we all agreed," he continued. "Of course, [Plushenko] is going to be the biggest star on the Russian team, but I just don't feel like it is his best time."

In Budapest, Březina placed one spot ahead of Plushenko's 18-year-old rival, Russian champion Maxim Kovtun. Back-to-back weak closing spins, plus doubling his second quad Salchow, hurt the Czech's free skate score, as did a quad-double -- instead of a quad-triple -- in his short.

"It was a good competition, compared to the season I had," he said. "I really want to be prepared for Sochi. [Europeans] was kind of a test; the judges want to see what you will bring to the Olympics, if you can make the top six."

Since Budapest, Březina has been hard at work at the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., where he has trained under 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko for the past three years. He skates for two hours each morning with Petrenko's wife, Nina, who focuses on his skating skills; afternoons are spent working with Viktor to stabilize his jumps. Shortly before leaving for Sochi, he had a clean run-through of his free skate.

"If I'm on and I can go on the ice and do my job, put together the two jumps I missed at Europeans, I can compete with the top guys," he said.

The Czech has worked on his quad toe but will stick with a quad Salchow in his short and two quad Salchows in his free skate in Sochi.

"Of course, I'm not happy he missed the European podium, but [Michal] has made progress compared to the start of the season," Viktor said. "I want his landings to be clear, more perfect, without mistakes. Technique-wise, I'm happy; his jumps are straight in the air. He was late with the time -- that's why he rushed and missed spin positions in Budapest. "

Petrenko competed at three Olympics, winning gold, bronze (1988) and finishing fourth (1994). Plushenko, with the 2006 gold and silver medals in 2002 and 2010, is going for his fourth individual medal in Sochi as well as a team medal.

"To be in shape for four Olympics is amazing," Petrenko said. "Plushenko is already is a legend. He went on the podium three times. It's tough; he had several surgeries, and it's hard to keep up. The young generation is fresh, they like to jump, and for him at age 31, it's very difficult. I'm glad to see him at a high level of skating and able to compete."

Mayoral send-off for Hackensack Olympians

John P. Labrosse, Jr., Hackensack's mayor, visited Ice House before its 11 Olympians departed for Sochi, to wish them good luck and preside over a press conference.

All three members of Israel's Olympic figure skating team -- pair Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski and man Alexei Bychenko -- call Hackensack home, as do other members of Israel's international squad. They've had a good season: first, they qualified Olympic spots at the Nebelhorn Trophy; then, Davidovich and Krasnopolski placed seventh at Europeans, while Bychenko was 10th. Those are the highest finishes ever for Israeli pairs and men.

"We skated a clean free program and did the best that we could," said the 16-year-old Davidovich, who has skated with Krasnopolski for a year.

"She never skated with a partner before, so each time we go out on the ice, we feel like we're getting better," added the 25-year-old Krasnopolski. 

Bychenko landed a quad toe and triple Axel combination in his ninth-place free skate in Budapest.

"It was not 100 percent what I could do; my goal is to make the program 110 percent at the Olympic Games," the 26-year-old skater said. "Every competition is the next step, next step."

Other 2014 Olympians training in Hackensack: Elena Glebova (Estonia); Nicole Rajičová (Slovak); Cathy Reed and Chris Reed (Japanese ice dancers); Natalia Popova (Ukraine); and Siobhan Heekin-Canedy and Dmitri Dun (Ukrainian ice dancers).

Bychenko is coached by Craig Maurizi, the director of figure skating at Ice House since November 1999. During his tenure, competitors including 2002 Olympic pairs champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze and 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes have trained there.

"We've been extremely lucky to have the coaching talent," Maurizi said. "Galit Chait is here with seven dance teams, and Galina Zmievskaya and Viktor Petrenko are here. The location in the New York area helps, but I like to think management has made a commitment to world-class figure skating."

Ice House boasts four ice surfaces, and at least two are solely dedicated to figure skating.

"Whenever a world-class coach comes to a rink, the first thing they want to know is how much ice you have, and fortunately we have it in abundance," Maurizi said.

In addition to its international group, Ice House had 22 U.S. skaters qualify for Eastern sectionals; of that number, 11 made it through to the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Junior man Jimmy Ma, who is coached by Steven Rice and Elaine Zayak, won bronze while intermediate man Liam Roumila won silver.

Wagner and the yellow dress

Ashley Wagner has returned to her Samson and Delilah free skate, but the bejeweled yellow dress she wore as the biblical temptress last season is now retired.

"The costume I wore last year is currently in the U.S. Figure Skating museum," she said during her pre-Olympics teleconference, and then added, "It's a somewhat different program, which calls for a different costume."

Phillip Mills choreographed the original Samson and Delilah free, while David Wilson created the Romeo and Juliet program Wagner used earlier this season. The skater's Olympic free skate will be an amalgam of Mills' and Wilson's work, along with a dash of Nadia Kanaeva, a choreographer who works with Wagner's coach, Rafael Arutunian.

The Olympic costume, though, is all Jan Longmire, the skater's go-to designer the last three seasons.

"We're kind of dressing up what we did last year," Wagner said. "It's kind of a welcome distraction, playing around with sparkles."

Longmire championed the use of a yellow with gold overtones for Delilah last season. The color was controversial; some fans loved it, some didn't, and others grew to like it as the season wore on.

"Ashley was unapologetic about wearing yellow, and she stuck to her guns," Longmire said. "I told her, 'You're showing your resolve here.'"

In their second go-around, Longmire and Wagner are sticking with yellow.

"I said, 'If you are going to be this character [again], be everything you were the first time; don't be contrite,'" Longmire said.

There will be some changes. Delilah already earned her golden coins by betraying Samson, so she shops in a better class of store. The time around, the dress will have a bit less yellow fabric, a bit more "nude" illusion and glitter.

"Delilah was a working girl last year; now she's been paid off," Longmire said. "She can shop at Bergdorf's. It's not too ornate, not too over the top. I really want to make Delilah look like a bad girl, but it's not going to be tacky. I want her to be in charge of her situation, not a victim."

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