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Plushenko hits quad, two triple Axels in Sheffield

Three-time Olympic medalist skates through pain, doubtful for worlds

Evgeni Plushenko finished first in qualifying at Euros but will likely not compete at worlds.
Evgeni Plushenko finished first in qualifying at Euros but will likely not compete at worlds. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2012) - The European Championships in Sheffield kicked off Monday with one of the sports' all-time greats, Evgeni Plushenko, performing a free skate to gain entry into the main draw. "This was the hardest program I ever skated," an exhausted Plushenko said in the mixed zone, still trying hard to catch his breath.

"I am thankful to the ISU, which made an exception to let me skate here. But if you are not completely healthy, it is very difficult."

The 2006 Olympic champion, who last competed internationally at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where he won silver, required a special exemption from the ISU to compete at Sheffield because he did not post a minimum international qualifying score within the last two seasons.

The six-time European champion added that renewed trouble with his knee made jumping painful.

"The doctors in Germany have always treated my knee very well during the several surgeries in the last couple of years, but in summer, I got new pain," he said.

"Yesterday, while doing the quad in practice, I also felt a pain in my neck. After Europeans I have to undergo surgery on my meniscus again, with the same doctors in Munich."

Despite these woes, Plushenko will press on in Sheffield, hoping to compete with younger skaters like Javier Fernandez of Spain and the two Czechs, Michal Brezina and Tomas Verner.

"Overall, I am happy with my program," he said. "My goals were Russian nationals and Europeans. Worlds would be very difficult for me because the young skaters have become so much better.

"My plan is to get in really good shape next season and then be competitive until the Olympics in 2014. I am happy that U.S. skaters Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek plan to come back as well, and am looking forward to competing against them next season."

Zoltan Kelemen of Romania was second with 114.64 points, and Polish skater Maciej Cieplucha was third with 108.53 points. Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari of Finland was expected to qualify but was forced to withdraw after twisting his right lower leg on a fall on a triple flip. In total, 11 men qualified to compete.

Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov, who compete for Azerbaijan but live in Moscow and are coached by Alexander Zhulin, won the ice dance preliminary round. Seven other teams also qualified for the main draw.