'Old man' Plushenko proves he is no spent force
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - A self-confessed "old man", Russia's Yevgeny Plushenko said he was happy to be mixing it with the teenagers after silencing the skeptics and thrilling the home crowd as figure skating's team event began on Thursday.
Soaking up the atmosphere generated by his star appeal, 2006 Olympic champion Plushenko blew kisses to an enthralled audience during a rip-roaring short program performance to outclass triple world champion Patrick Chan.
Having endured numerous operations just to regain the ice, Plushenko's against-the-odds comeback awed the much younger flock of skaters, who were barely in their teens when he won his first Olympic medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
"I'm so happy I can compete with 18-year-old guys," said the 31-year-old father of two whose performance was only bettered by Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu.
"All comebacks are hard, especially after 12 (back) surgeries, but it is possible... I'm old but I'm still alive."
The Russian showman pulled out all the stops in one of the first performances, setting the bar high and helping Russia to pole position after team mates Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov prevailed in the pairs.
Taking the ice as the crowd chanted his name, Plushenko confidently banged out a quadruple toeloop-triple toeloop combination and triple Axel in the first rush of the program, before settling down to enjoy the skate.
He played to the crowd during fiery footwork sequences accompanied by the powerful chords of the Tango de Roxanne.
The performance confounded the critics who had questioned his selection as Russia's sole men's skater ahead of national champion Maxim Kovtun. Continued...