Evgeni Plushenko cleared to compete

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko was cleared Tuesday to compete at this month's European figure skating championships.

The International Skating Union said it granted Russia's request for an exemption for Plushenko, who did not have the required qualifying score from an international event during the past two seasons. He returned to competition for the first time since the Vancouver Olympics at last month's Russian championships, which he won.

Plushenko, a six-time European champion, set what was then a world record in the short program the last time he competed at the Europeans. This year's European championships are Jan. 23-29 in Sheffield, Britain.

Plushenko is the greatest male skater of his generation, winning three world titles and silver medals at the 2010 and 2002 Olympics in addition to his gold at the Turin Games. The ISU stripped him of his eligibility in June 2010 as punishment for skating in exhibitions without permission from the Russian federation. He did not immediately appeal, leading many to believe he was retiring. Plushenko was almost 28 then and had a history of knee problems.

But Plushenko asked the ISU last April to restore his eligibility, saying he wanted to compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in his home country. The ISU agreed, restoring his eligibility in June 2011.

Though Plushenko will be 31 in 2014, his return is a boost for Russia as it tries to rebuild its storied skating program ahead of Sochi. Russian skaters failed to win a single gold medal in Vancouver, and Artur Gachinki's bronze at last year's world championships was the first medal by a Russian man since Plushenko won his third world title in 2004.

No Russian man made this year's Grand Prix final, with Gachinski finishing fifth at both the Cup of China and the Rostelecom Cup.