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Amodio holds one-point lead over Fernandez

Plushenko falls on triple Axel, withdraws; Joubert lands in third after coaching switch

A reaggravated back injury is to blame for Evgeni Plushenko's withdrawal.
A reaggravated back injury is to blame for Evgeni Plushenko's withdrawal. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2013) - After seven titles in 10 years, Evgeni Plushenko has conceded his European crown in Zagreb.

The 30-year-old Russian, whose last defeat at the European Figure Skating Championships came in 2004 to Brian Joubert, had treated the event as his personal domain, "retiring" after his wins in 2006 and 2010 only to return to win yet again last season.

But in Zagreb, he fell on a triple Axel in his short program, did not include a quad and placed sixth behind a younger generation of skaters as well as longtime rival Joubert.

The skater's coach, Alexei Mishin, attributed Plushenko's withdrawal to aggravation of a chronic back condition.

"You cannot fight with your opponents, and with pain," Mishin said.

Life goes on, even in Europe and even without Plushenko. Frenchman Florent Amodio, who won the European title in 2011 during Plushenko's hiatus, grabbed the lead with a new program set to familiar music that earned 89.82 points.

The 22-year-old hit a strong quad Salchow, worth 11.79 points, as well as a brilliant triple Axel and solid triple Lutz-triple toe combination. He gained by far the highest technical elements score (TES) and, with his musicality and energy, also gained high program components.

After his Grand Prix events, Amodio and his coach, Nikoli Morozov, changed his short program music from a flamenco to a remix of his last season's free skate to Brazilian selections. Amodio was born in Brazil, and adopted by a French couple as an infant.

"I was very focused today; I didn't have good short programs at the beginning of the season, and I really wanted to start this competition well," Amodio said. "My first short program of this season was very difficult for me to express. I couldn't find myself in the music.

"The Brazilian style of this new short program is in my heart; this is my kind of program. Nikoli did huge work for me after nationals. After skating this program, I know that it is possible for me to be in the first place. I'll go into the free program on Saturday with this feeling."

Javier Fernández, who trains in Toronto under Brian Orser, sits second with 88.80 points. The Spaniard landed a huge quad Salchow and triple Axel in his Zorro short but reduced a planned triple Lutz-triple toe combination to a triple-double. He gained Level 4 for all three of his spins, as well as Level 3 for his steps.

"I am very pleased with my skate," Fernández said. "I was a little scared because my skates were lost at the airport in Munich and I missed all the practices in the main rink. Therefore, I have not touched this rink until today."

Fernández, who previously did a quad toe in his short, recently changed his program to include the Salchow.

"I talked to some judges and they were not happy that there were no toe steps before the quad toe, and so I changed it to a Salchow," he said. "There were so many Spanish flags here, and it made me fell so happy that all those people are here to support us skaters. It's unbelievable."

Joubert, who won this event in 2004, 2007 and 2009, is third with 83.93 points after a near-flawless program. The Frenchman over-rotated his quad toe loop but landed it on one foot and was able to add a triple toe. His other elements were good, and his dynamic step sequence gained seven +2 and +3 grades of execution (GOEs) from the judges. The veteran skater recently changed coaches from Annick Dumont to Katja Krier.

Czech Michal Březina landed a quad Salchow and triple Axel in his short but stepped out of his triple flip and did not complete a combination. He is fourth with 79.84 points. Russia's Sergei Voronov is fifth with 78.38 points after a near-clean performance including a quad toe loop.

Plushenko was off his game from the start in Zagreb, missing many triple jumps in practice. He looked slow and hesitant in his short program, set to music from Yanni, only coming to life in the final 10 seconds of his step sequence. He earned 74.82 points after he landed a shaky triple Lutz, fell on the triple Axel and did a relatively easy combination of triple loop-triple toe.

After his program, the Russian could hardly bend down to pick up some flowers from the ice. To add to his discomfort, he cut his hand tying his laces before his performance.

"It was not a magic day today," Plushenko said. "I fell on the triple Axel, maybe I rushed it, and maybe I wasn't completely focused.

"When we got here, we decided not to go for the quad toe loop, but when I did the triple Lutz instead, maybe I did not fully switch my focus. The fall on the Axel is an unforgivable mistake for me. It wasn't my injury, it wasn't my back. I did not come here to win the gold medal but to skate clean."