The participation of Evgeni Plushenko in the forthcoming European Championships in Sheffield is in question. Not long ago, the International Skating Union (ISU) decided that a conditions for participating to Euros will be ranking points earned during the last two years of competitions. Since Plushenko took three seasons off after winning in Torino in 2006, then he has no points.
Yesterday, the President of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, Alexander Gorshkov, started consultations with the ISU. "The rule intend to exclud from official championships low-level athletes. This certainly not applies to Plushenko. Since the case is unusual, we need to solve the problem with the ISU", said Gorshkov.
The Russian team that will compete in Sheffield's European Championships was formed taking into account rankings in the national Championship, but also the age of the athletes. To participate in the European and World Championships, skaters must be 15 years old on 1 July 2012. This means that neither the three-time Russian champion Adelina Sotnikova, nor silver medalist Julia Lipnitskaya will be able to go to Sheffield. [A/N: to see the Russian athletes selected to compete in Sheffield go here]
At 29 and at his second comeback, Plushenko looks pretty damn good. Ok, definitely this was not Plushenko. His short program had some shaky moments and he lost steam in the second half of his free skate. But the technical prowess that made him dominate men’s skating for seven years is still there.
The field of men’s skating this season is vastly different from what it was two years ago when Plushenko competed last. The fact of the matter is, the thing that gave him his dominance was that same technical prowess and consistency I was talking about. But the men’s field now has caught up to Plushenko’s technical abilities (Patrick Chan now has two quads in his free skate, as does Javier Fernandez) and we have great skaters who are also great jumpers.
The intricacy of Plushenko's two programs is certainly not up to a Chan or a Takahashi or an Abbott. Of course, this is his first competition in quite a while. So he will have to make improvements for him to have hopes of regaining that top spot.
Plushenko is clearly making an effort to be competitive with the other top skaters in the program components department. The entrances to his jumps are getting shorter. His step sequences are also much improved. And while he’s never going to win a spinning competition (that would be Stéphane Lambiel, no doubt), he’s improving (he never did a flying sit before).
Being a Plushenko supporter, I will no doubt say that he’s the best skater in the world. But there are a few things that are against him. Components marks, to start. And putting the highest-scoring elements at the very beginning hurts his base value. Furthermore, the lack of a second quad in his free skate is a disadvantage to Chan. Add that to the fact that Plushenko doesn’t yet have eight triples planned in the free skate, and it brings down his base value relative to the other skaters even more.
He recognizes that he needs to make improvements to be at the top again and coming back two seasons early in anticipation of Sochi gives him time to adjust as needed.
But there’s no doubt, Plushenko is back.