SOCHI, October 3 (R-Sport) - Turin 2006 figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko is aiming to get fit in time for an Olympic swansong in Sochi next year, but he faces a challenge from 18-year-old fellow Russian Maxim Kovtun, who staked his claim with a strong skate Thursday.
Host nation Russia has been allocated just one place in the men’s singles for Sochi, putting pressure on the injury-ravaged Plushenko, who has not competed since January, to prove he is still capable of skating at the top level.
That pressure increased Thursday when Kovtun debuted a short program featuring two jumps with four rotations, an extremely challenging program feature seen as essential for gold-medal contenders.
“That was the main goal, to try two quads in the short,” Kovtun said after taking the lead at a Russian Cup event with his new program. He landed one quad cleanly but fell on the other.
“I’d like to be skating clean, but so far it’s turning out very difficult and lacking in control,” said Kovtun, who was a disappointing 18th at the world championships in April. “I want to go to the Olympics, but for that I need to produce ideal skates at two Grands Prix.”
Another skater with eyes on Plushenko’s place in Sochi fared less well Thursday. Veteran Konstantin Menshov is second behind Kovtun after the short program in an otherwise weak event.
Menshov landed the sole quad of his short program but admitted he was lacking fitness and needed to put more emotion into his skating.
“I got tired, to be honest. It was hard,” he said. “I was hurrying through the whole skate … I needed to be thinking both about the music and the movement, and expressing some kind of emotions. It was a bit forced.”
The Sochi round of the Russian Cup runs through October 6 and is seen as a key proving ground for would-be Russian Olympians ahead of the Grand Prix season starting October 18 at Skate America in Detroit.
Kovtun is entered for the Cup of China next month and Menshov for the NHK Trophy one week later. Both Kovtun and Plushenko are to compete at the Cup of Russia in Moscow from November 22 to 24.
Russia, traditionally one of the world's figure skating countries, saw its allocation of Olympic men's singles places reduced to one as a result of Kovtun's poor performance at the last world championships, when Plushenko did not compete.