|Russia's Evgeni Plushenko celebrates after performing in the Men's Free Skating program competition at the European Figure Skating Championships in Sheffield, England, Saturday Jan. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Jon Super)|
Vintage Plushenko wins 7th European title
SHEFFIELD, England—Defying his aching left knee and advancing age, Evgeni Plushenko had a career-best performance Saturday to win his seventh European figure skating title.
Throwing in an unexpected quadruple jump to a compelling routine to "Tango de Roxanne" from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, the 2006 Olympic champion scored a personal-best 176.52 points in the free skate to total 261.23 -- his highest overall mark.
"I'm called the king by many people and I try to live up to that name. I want to remain the king for a long time to come," the 29-year-old Plushenko said.
If Plushenko is the king, then Carolina Kostner is surely the queen of European skating.
On a day to remember for a relative veteran of the women's competition, the 24-year-old Italian captured a fourth continental title in a six-year span by executing a flawless, if limited, free skate to build on her lead from the short program. Topping both segments, the elegant Kostner finished with 183.55 points, more than 16 clear of second-place Kiira Korpi of Finland.
With 18-year-old Artur Gachinski finishing second in the men's competition, Russia left the meet with seven medals out of a possible 12 -- two years before the country hosts the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
The spectators at Motorpoint Arena were already on their feet when Plushenko -- dressed in a glitter-lined black outfit -- finished his breathtaking routine in a blaze of glory, repeatedly pumping his fists in the direction of the judges.
Even with Gachinski, who led Plushenko by 0.09 points after the short dance, and three other rivals to come, the greatest male skater of his generation knew the gold was again his -- 12 years after winning his first continental title.
"I did a little bit of history in figure skating today," an overjoyed Plushenko said.
Gachinski couldn't match his mentor, idol and training partner.
The bronze medalist from last year's worlds scored 161.47 points in his free skate to total 246.27, a personal best too.
Defending champion Florent Amodio of France rallied from fifth place to take the bronze with an overall score of 234.18, ahead of Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic (229.30).
Plushenko hopped onto the podium to collect the 18th major medal of an illustrious career that he is set to stretch, amazingly, to Sochi. He started off in seniors in 1997.
"I felt like I did eight years ago out there," said Plushenko, the only living male skater with 3 Olympic medals to his name. In addition to his gold from Turin, Plushenko has silvers from Salt Lake City and Vancouver.
Plushenko has a history of back and knee problems: He is going to Germany in two weeks for surgery on his left knee, a procedure that will keep him out of the world championships. He said he didn't do a quad during his play-it-safe short program on Thursday because it would have taken three or four minutes for his body to recover.
Lo and behold, Plushenko opened the free skate with a quad toe loop -- which earned the maestro 11.59 points -- that set the tone for the rest of his joyous, near-flawless routine that had the crowd tranfixed.
The veteran skater denied he had played mind games with his rivals, insisting instead that his medical team had performed miracles.
"Today, the problems with my meniscus were overcome," he said. "Today, I skated at full capacity."
His intimidating score, which was nearly three points better than his previous best of 258.33 he achieved in winning Olympic gold in Turin, left him way clear of the field.
Gachinski, Javier Fernandez of Spain and Amodio were still to come but following Plushenko was virtually impossible.
Needing the skate of his young life, Gachinski opened up stylishly with a quad toe-double toe-double loop and another quad toe, but was marked down on his latter jumps.
"I am still happy," Gachinski said. "This is my second Europeans and I got a second."
Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic was third after the short program but flopped in the free, slumping to fifth and allowing Amodio to climb onto the podium despite the Frenchman not managing a quad.
"It was a difficult experience but I'm proud," Amodio said. "I started to feel like the real Florent Amodio again."
Consistency was the key to Kostner's victory.
After seeing Korpi -- her closest challenger after the short program -- botch her opening two jumps, wobbling at the end of a triple to-triple toe and placing her hand on the ice after a triple salchow, Kostner knew a safe routine would ease her to gold.
Nailing her jumps, she scored 120.33 points, comfortably the best of the night.
"I think I have done better programs this year but I'm happy how I dealt with the pressure I put on myself," Kostner said.
Korpi captured the silver with 166.94 points despite coming fourth in the free skate, to better her two bronzes from 2007 and '11. Elene Gedevanishvili took the bronze, 1.01 points further back, to bump the Russians off the podium for the first time this competition.
Kostner turns 25 next week, but don't expect her to last as long as Plushenko.
"I admire his courage and consistency so much, especially because I'm sure that coming back from time away from skating isn't easy," Kostner said. "This is already my 10th Europeans. I don't know if I'm going to skate that much longer."