Russian great Plushenko wins 7th European title

January 28, 2012 - 2:35 PM
Britain European Figure Skating

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)

SHEFFIELD, England (AP) — Russian great Evgeni Plushenko produced a career-best performance Saturday to beat protege Artur Gachinski and win his seventh men's European figure skating title.

The 2006 Olympic champion put together a compelling routine to "Tango de Roxanne" from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and scored a personal-best 176.52 points in the free skate for a total of 261.23 — Plushenko's highest ever overall mark.

His breathtaking display included a perfectly judged quadruple jump — an exploit he claimed he couldn't perform this week because of injuries to his left knee and back.

"I did a little bit of history in figure skating today," an overjoyed Plushenko said.

The 18-year-old Gachinski led his mentor, idol and training partner by 0.09 points after the short program but finished 14.96 points behind in second with 246.27. Gachinski, the bronze medalist from last year's worlds, scored 161.47 points in his free skate for a 246.27 total.

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 (153.17).

With the spectators at Motorpoint Arena already rising to their feet, Plushenko — dressed in a glitter-lined black outfit — put an exclamation point on his routine with repeated fist pumps at the end.

Even with Gachinski and three other rivals to come, the greatest male skater of his generation knew the gold was again his at age 29 — 12 years after winning his first continental title.

"You all saw my emotions at the end," Plushenko said. "I felt like I did eight years ago."

Plushenko is a sporting icon in Russia, and the only living male skater with three Olympic medals to his name. Having started his senior career in 1997, he will attempt to stay on until the 2014 Olympics on home soil in Sochi.

"When I am going to be healthy, I will do a little bit more," said Plushenko, who will head to Germany to undergo surgery on his problematic left knee in two weeks — a procedure that will keep him out of the world championships at the end of March.

His previous best overall score was 258.33 when he won gold at the 2006 Turin Games. He scored 167.67 in the free skate in that competition, his previous best mark for the longer of the two disciplines.

Plushenko's excuse for not doing a quad during his play-it-safe short program on Thursday was that it would take 3 or 4 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 — and set the tone for the rest of a joyous and nearly flawless routine that had the crowd transfixed.

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."

He went on to nail both a triple axel-triple toe and then a triple lutz-double toe-double loop combination, and achieved a level four with his flying sit spin and camel spin.

The intimidating score left him way clear of the field. Gachinski, Javier Fernandez and Amodio had yet to skate, but following Plushenko was virtually impossible.

Needing to skate the best routine of his young career, Gachinski opened up stylishly with a quad toe combination and another quad toe but was marked down on his latter jumps.

"I am still happy," said Gachinski, who also broke his personal best of 241.86 points. "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."

The women's title will be decided later Saturday, with Italy's Carolina Kostner in the lead after the short program as she goes in search of a fourth European gold.