SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Figure skating veteran Yevgeny Plushenko is the “talk of the town” following his controversial selection for the Sochi Olympics, but world champion Patrick Chan is more concerned about the threat posed by Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Daisuke Takahashi.
The 31-year-old Plushenko was picked as Russia’s only male skater earlier this month despite failing to win his country’s national championships.
“That is the talk of the town,” Chan joked after being reminded that Plushenko was a last-minute addition to the mix.
“It is drama-filled. I mean, who would have thought that after the results at Russian nationals and Europeans that the decision was made to send him?”
Plushenko is certainly a wild card in Sochi.
He has been virtually absent from competition since earning a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games - opting to skip every world championships in the last Olympic cycle and undergoing back surgery.
When he does lace up his boots for Sochi, the Russian showman will find the skating landscape radically changed from his last global outing in Vancouver - when Chan finished 5th.
While four years ago only a few of the men’s challengers attempted difficult quadruple jumps - Evan Lysacek triumphed without in Canada - all the top skaters now do.
Plushenko will have to prove he can still throw himself through the air and stick landings in Sochi.
“Things have changed a lot since the last time we competed so it’ll be fun,” Chan mused.
By contrast, he sounded much more diffident speaking about going head-to-head with Hanyu and Takahashi.
Chan conceded he was locked in a mental struggle to overcome jitters and his own doubts about his ability to beat Hanyu, who out-skated him in the Grand Prix final in Fukuoka, Japan.
“It is like I have a devil on my shoulder,” Chan said. “It is a constant battle ... thinking about, ‘Oh, am I going to beat them even at my best because I started questioning that as a result of the Grand Prix final.”
Where Plushenko may have an edge as he takes the ice for his fourth Olympic Games is his vast experience at shocking the crowd with a stellar performance under pressure.
But Chan said he does not envy him the challenge.
Plushenko will push his aging body to prove himself not only in the individual skate but the team competition, which is debuting in Sochi.
That means he will effectively have to compete in back-to-back competitions, performing four programs at the Games because Russia has no other skater to substitute.
“That is a lot of work for a 30-year-old - or how old is he? - a 31-year-old. That is a lot of work so I really admire his perseverance and his determination to get here,” Chan said.
“I would be very distracted having to deal with the controversies and everything,” the Canadian added.
“You can’t teach experience so he has got something more than what many other young Russian skaters have.”
Chan should know.
He has struggled not to let nerves get the best of him in the past.
While Plushenko, who has a reputation as a “diva”, has yet to show up at a practice session Chan was the first skater to arrive at the Games.
He described having the practice ice all to himself for the first few days as a “huge advantage.”
“I ... trained and prepared myself to win a gold medal, but in order to get to that step I need to first do what I have to do on the ice and skate and train everyday to prepare myself to skate a flawless program,” Chan said.
“What I do want to leave here is that taste of a great skate - finally where I want it to be.”
(Removes reference to jump description in ninth paragraph)
Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Peter Rutherford