- SKATING - Plushchenko wins first worlds; Americans finish 3-4

Sunday, March 25
Plushchenko wins first worlds; Americans finish 3-4

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Yevgeny Plushchenko's worst performance on the world stage led to his best. And that led him to the top of figure skating.

The 18-year-old Russian won the World Figure Skating Championships crown Thursday night with a masterful display of jumping, spinning and theatrics. The victory over countryman Alexei Yagudin, the three-time defending champion, came one year after Plushchenko fell apart in the free skate in the 2000 worlds.
Yevgeny Pluschenko
Yevgeny Plushchenko of Russia was a fan favorite in Vancouver from the very start of his routine Thursday.

"I could have won last year, too, but I didn't really know yet how to focus," he said. "I thought too much about the medal.

"This is my year; I win everything."

It wasn't a bad year for the Americans, either. Todd Eldredge didn't waste the opportunity to make a big splash in his return to this level, taking the bronze medal. And when U.S. champion Timothy Goebel finished fourth, it gave the Americans three spots for next year's Olympics.

"I came here to get the three spots for the Olympics and we did it," said Eldredge, a five-time U.S. champion who also won worlds in 1996 and took world medals in 1991 (bronze), 1995, '97 and '98 (silver). He missed silver this time by a 5-4 margin with the judges.

Goebel also was happy with his performance.

"Last year I was only 11th," he said. "My goal this year was only to come in and get as close to the top as I could. To be up this high in this class of skaters, I am very happy."

The crowd wasn't happy that Plushchenko failed to collect a perfect score. He got a swarm of 5.9s - even as the crowd chanted for 6.0s.

Plushchenko had the fans clapping from early in his scintillating program to various musical pieces, including "The Addams Family." There was nothing ghoulish or comical about the routine, only superb jumps of the most difficult variety and showmanship worthy of a world champion.

"I'm so happy - unbelievable," Plushchenko said. "I am not conscious. I don't think I realize I really won."

He won with jumps that included a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop-double loop combination nobody else tries, and a total of eight triples. The spins were just as extraordinary, highlighted by a Biellmann in which the lanky Russian places a leg up behind his head as he rotates.

Yagudin skated with a foot injury that has required pain-killing injections all week. He was far better than in the qualifying session, when the Russian flopped all over the ice and wound up fifth.

But he struggled on a triple flip, did only one quad and stepped out of a combination jump, damaging his technical marks.

"Of course, everyone would be disappointed they didn't have the chance to be world champion a fourth time," Yagudin said. "I knew going into the skate today there was no way I can win."

Eldredge, 29, considered himself a big winner with his third-place showing after he sat out the last two seasons. He returned this year to prepare for the Salt Lake City Games, but was damaged by not doing a quad.

Eldredge he hit eight triples to music from the film "1492," and skated as well all week as he did in winning his only world crown, in 1996.

But that was a different era, when four-rotation jumps weren't necessary. They are now, regardless of how good the artistry is.

"This is by far the best I have skated in several years," said Eldredge, whose marks drew loud boos from the sellout crowd.

"Todd was a little worried tonight," coach Richard Callaghan said. "Now he knows he's in the mix, so he is ready to move forward."

Goebel moved forward as he nailed two quads and six triples, but again suffered in presentation marks. The fact he hit more quads (five) than anyone in the event wasn't enough to boost him to third.

"Our biggest hope was maybe being third," coach Frank Carroll said. "If we could have been in the top five, we would have been delighted. So we are somewhere between our highest hopes and a place where we would be pretty happy."

Canadian star Elvis Stojko, a three-time winner of this event, had little to offer on his 29th birthday. He didn't do a clean quad, falling on one attempt, and couldn't complete a triple axel. Injured all season, Stojko made his 2000-01 debut at worlds, and his rustiness showed as he finished 10th.

"I went out there and gave it everything I could right until the end," he said. "I just need the run-throughs and the time."

As expected, Italy's Barbara Fusar Poli and Mauricio Margaglio won the original dance Thursday afternoon. The European champions edged defending world champs Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat in the event, worth 30 percent of the total score.

Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, the three-time American champions, stood ninth heading into Friday night's free dance.

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Results from Thursday

Kwan, Slutskaya win qualifying groups

Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier win Pairs

Plushchenko's brilliance matches Yagudin's courage

Canadian pair primed for home ice Worlds

Search begins for the next Lipinski

 Yevgeny Plushchenko earns gold at the World Figure Skating Championships.(Courtesy: ABC Sports).
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 ABC's Melissa Stark talks with Yevgeny Plushchenko after his first place finish at the World Figure Skating Championships.
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