|Photo © AP
Evgeni Plushenko got very lucky at the short program draw. To skate second in the first group meant escaping the challenge of the long hours of waiting and preserve the strength. It's one thing to finish your performance around the midnight, and it's completely different to be free 15 minutes after the signal to start.
His pre-competition practice didn't give a lot of food for thought. We could see he was in great shape. All his jumps were effortless, but he wasn't spending an extra drop of energy. He would leave the ice as soon as the minimal training program was complete.
By the way, the spectators were clearly unhappy. Starting from the first day of the event, the organizing committee was selling the tickets to all the practices at main arena, and there were plenty of people wanting to get to the Palavela.
The small by figure skating merits rink had its pros and cons. Big arena, the American type, have the stands going under the ceiling in endless tiers, and skaters feel «little» and not as confident. On the other hand, the lack of space created huge problems for the photographers. On the day of the free programs, they have to take their spots (tickets are required) starting at 15:34. The free program starts at seven and ends around midnight. I don't remember it ever happening in any sport.
During the practices, the stands were filled tight. It doesn't always happen even during the competition.
Johnny Weir became the biggest newsmaker a day before the short program. He did great quad-triple-triple in practice, but said most likely he won't include into his program as he doesn't want to risk too much. Why did he jump it? For the confidence; when quads happens, triple become something more easier and reliable. Naturally, it become easier to skate.
Still, it doesn't always happen. See Stephane Lambiel. He has pretty confident quad, and he is battling the triple axel for some time with changing success. The skater was one of the last to arrive to Torino, after being secluded in Grenoble where he was treating the knee injury acquired couple of weeks ago.
He got it done and he said he is ready to compete full strength.
Speaking of injuries, we have to turn back to Monday when Dan Zhang took a scary fall on the throw during the pairs final. The judges allowed the skaters to continue the program and on Tuesday, it was suddenly echoed. As I previously wrote, everything was under the rules: less than two minutes passed between the time the music stopped and the time pair came back on ice. However, the referee should've stopped the music immediately and blow a whistle. He probably didn't think that Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang would be able to skate after such a scary fall. Maybe he was as shaken as everybody else after what he saw and he just forgot about the formalities and the music kept playing.
After everyone calmed down and watched the replay, turned out there was 4 minutes and 48 seconds between the time the skating really stopped and the skaters taking the ice for the second time. So, the pair had to be dismissed from the event, not given the silver medal.
Still, it's not that simple. Those who saw the swimming event in Athens probably remember how Aaron Pierson violated the rules - he turned about two meters earlier before he had the right to do it. Three judges immediately filed the protocol to disqualify Aaron, but as it turned out later, they didn't fill it our correctly. As a result, all three were disqualified, and Piersol was given the gold while International Swimming Federation didn't deny the fact that he violated the rules.
Same thing here. Any arbitrage, if it would've come to that, would've taken the skaters side. It was completely the referee's fault.
Anyway, we got distracted.
It was hard to evaluate Plushenko winning the short program, just like Zhang/Zhang performance. Just because they did all the elements in the way we can't understand makes any criticism barbaric.
During the two and a half minutes he spent on ice, the figure skating has nothing to do with art. It was the quintessential sport, crystal clear and crazy desire to get rid of the phantom of the last Games.
When a person comes to compete with his eyeballs being white from the tensions, it's just as scary as the torn muscles. At times, Plushenko wasn't going with the music, but darn it, why would it matter? He did everything and it's unlikely that any other skater would've done the same under the same circumstances.
There were worries before the men's competition, especially since Plushenko didn't feel at his best for the first two days at Torino. Maybe he got the food poisoning, maybe it was because that food and water was different from what he is used too, maybe this was the huge pressure before the competition. In any case, he paid dearly for his practices and the competition.
However, after the Russian skater's great performance, we can't really call whatever happened in the men's even a competition. There was Plushenko, and behind him, separated by a large distance, everyone else. How can we talk about rivalry at this point?
Everybody admitted this on Tuesday - Johnny Weir who was in second place, Stephane Lambiel was a little less than a point behind the American, Brian Joubert who was in fourth place. Their comments were mostly how no skater can compete with Evgeni now and all is left to compete for is the silver medal.
I can assume that for any person who is not connected to Russia, Plushenko's performances wasn't the most interesting part of the event. It was the fight for the second place. The passion was boiling there. About ten skaters could've been the «next one after the God» if skated clean.
Weir was the only one who managed to do the required elements almost perfectly. His «Dying Swan» beautified the men's event, just like Lambiel's new program that was quickly choreographed after the Europeans to the Cirque Du Soleil music.
I think his previous program to Latin rhythms weren't any worse, and some think otherwise. The thing is that both Lambiel and Weir stand apart from the rest because of their natural and liberated skating. You can see right away when the skater makes a move because that's what he was taught and when he makes the move because he can't imagine any other movement at this place in the program.
It's almost impossible to make skaters like that do something that others see in a better light. See Weir, who decided to go back to last year's free program to Otonal. His explanation was simple - he feels more comfortable in this music. It doesn't matter what the others think.
This attitude towards skating is characteristic of Western skaters, with rare exceptions. Maybe because they more free initially than those who spend their careers under the Russian flag. They can afford to realize their own potential without thinking about constantly about meeting someone else’s expectations and plans.
Another example is Brian Joubert, clearly an athlete with many qualities valuable for sport. At one time, the French was criticized for copying Alexei Yagudin but it wasn’t difficult to explain «Yagudin style». Joubert simply tried to compensate for the lack of natural artistry by following the best example at the time.
It’s pretty clear now – the more he «pushes» the artificial artistry out of himself, the worse it could reflect on the results. This skater’s strength is first of all in the unbelievable health, strong feet and nerves. Of course, he can try to get into the superman character at the same time, but it’s not always persuasive. What makes you a James Bond if you missed the jump combination?
I would also put Emmanuel Sandhu to the category of creative skaters. He wasn’t lucky on Tuesday. He drew last in the skating order and he burned out while waiting for his turn. Sandhu started with a beautiful quad toe-loop/triple toe-loop, getting 13.29 for it (Plushenko had 13.86 for the same combo), but he immediately missed the triple axel, and later the lutz, and we just couldn’t enjoy the remaining footwork and spins. This is not the show, this the Olympics.
Still, the fight for the silver can go any way. The common thinking that the short program decides how the things end is just a theory. In reality, anything can happen.