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Olympic Outlook (Men): Evgeny Plushenko

Next week, I'll start doing general event previews for each Olympic skating event.  But I'm starting out with in-depth looks at skaters I feel are particularly likely to be in the Olympic medal mix.  If there are multiple skaters in an event from the same country who may make a mark, I'll include them in one post.  Russia is sending Evgeny Plushenko and Artem Borodulin as its men's Olympic team to Vancouver.  Plushenko is the one to watch.

Evgeny Plushenko

He is:  The reigning Olympic gold medalist, with a good chance at becoming the first repeat male gold medalist since Dick Button in 1952.

He is:  Consistently doing some of the most difficult jumping of any of the men (landing his quadruple toe/triple toe combination with regularlity)

He is:  Fiercely competitive (those in your face number one hand gestures are not for his health)

He is:  I believe, the Olympic gold medal favorite this year.

You say Evgeni, I say Evgeny. No matter how you spell the man's name, the other competitors should be scared to face Plushenko in Vancouver this month.  He has barely lost a competition over the last ten years.  A DECADE.  He is a three-time world champion, and a two-time Olympic medalist (silver from Salt Lake City in 2002). After taking a break after the 2006 Olympics, he had no problem at all coming back and winning every competition he has entered this season.

Plushenko is an all-around threat.  Although he has been very consistent with his jumps (particularly his quads and triple axels), he has also routinely received extremely high program components scores through his career.  I don't particularly love his brand of choreography (he gets grief from some of us for his excessive...arm flailing), but his skating skills are strong and he is rewarded for that.  The International Skating Union judges respect his artistry, and that's all that really matters. Plushenko has even doubled a couple of lutzes this season and not all of his jump landings have been perfect - but when you build up the leads he has been building up with the rest of his difficulty, such mistakes no longer make much of a difference.

This season, Plushenko returned to competition for the first time since the 2006 Olympics.  He easily won the Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix event, won the Russian nationals with scores that are too high to be trusted, and easily won the European Championships.  His short program score of 91.30 is now the ISU short program record. The only true concern he might have is that his free skate program components scored slightly below those of Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel...but he still received extremely high scores for the program. 

Plushenko has been consistently landing a quad in his short program and a quad in his free skate.  He has been quoted in the press as saying he'll need two quads in his free skate in order to win the Olympics.  I don't think this is true, and as he has not done two quads in the free skate this season, I wonder if that decision will end up coming back to haunt him.  If he builds up a mammoth lead in the short program as he has been doing so far this season, I am not sure he would risk the second quad in the free skate.

Quick Take

The Programs:  I think both Plushenko's short and long programs (free skate) are well-designed.  They aren't going to be included in my favorite programs of the season, but they are good.  His free skate starts off as a bit of a jumping clinic, but once he gets those first few jumps out of the way, he starts to get a bit more interesting and challenging with the jump entrances and the footwork and spins.

Latest Performance:  Plushenko recently won the European championships with two solid programs.  The only major error was doubling a triple lutz (and proceeding to land it wonky) and it didn't hurt him much.

Strengths:  Jumping ability, spin flexibility, consistency.  As mentioned above, Plushenko builds up huge short program leads.  At that point, he has a lot less pressure heading into free skates, while the other skaters come in with a lot more to worry about.

Weaknesses:  Might not receive the highest program components scores, but his are still so high I wouldn't consider this a true weakness.

It gives me the creeps when:  He does those weird finger kisses at the end of his programs.  STOP DOING THAT.

I think it's awesome when:  He lands those quadruple toe/triple toe loop combinations.

Olympic Outlook:  I see Plushenko on the podium.  I'll be surprised if he doesn't win the gold medal based on his scoring this season, but there are certainly skaters who can give him a run for his money if they are on.  But the other skaters are going to have to start skating a lot cleaner than they have been in order to truly compete with him.