Evgeny Plushenko a swashbuckler on the ice tonight
When he finished a short program to Spanish music, Russia’s Evgeny Plushenko mimed brandishing a sword and putting it back in the sheath.
The reigning Olympic champion certainly was a swashbuckler on the ice, and he may have also carved up the competition.
Tenth in the skating order, the first of the contenders, Plushenko landed a quadruple-triple combination and a huge triple axel to finish with 90.85 points, just a hair below the world record 91.30 he scored at the European championships last month.
But all the uproar over his lack of transitions and linking footwork since then may have had an impact.
His component score in that category was just 6.8, a point under any of his other four component scores and .7 lower than the score at European championships.
Plushenko is among the five men who listed a quadruple-triple combination among their planned program elements. The others: Adrian Schultheiss of Switzerland, 2005-2006 world champion Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, 2007 world champion Brian Joubert of France, and Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic.
Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, battling back from knee surgery that sidelined him last year, put pressure on Plushenko with 90.25 points -– without a quad.
Joubert, usually master of the quad, botched it a few seconds into a program that came apart afterward, as Joubert fell on his third jumping pass. He had just 68 points, a stunningly low score.
Lambiel, runner-up to Plushenko at the Europeans, finished with one of the mind-boggling combination spins the Swiss are famous for.
But he dragged a foot coming out of the quadruple jump in his quadruple-double combination and finished with 84.63 points as the crowd roared its approval of his interpretation of the William Tell Overture.
"This is the result of the information war against him," Plushenko’s coach, Alexei Mishin, said of the low transition score.
He was referring to all the stories and comments on the Internet about the idea Plushenko was getting transition scores that were too high. The skater himself had said he didn’t do any transitions because he focused on his jumps.
Plushenko, who skates with the arrogant demeanor of a champion, seemed to be making a mockery of the controversy when he did an Elvis-like hip swivel after landing the quadruple-triple combination.
"I don’t care today about the transitions or the scoring system," Plushenko said. "I care (that) I did a clean program.
"This is the third Olympics for me, and I skated not bad. I will take any result."
Asked if he wanted to make history by becoming the first since Dick Button to win back-to-back golds, Plushenko said, "I am already in history."
He also won a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics.
-- Philip Hersh, reporting from Vancouver
Photo: Evgeny Plushenko performs his short program Tuesday in Vancouver. Credit: David J. Phillip / Associated Press