Evgeni Plushenko leads Russia, as Olympic figure skating team event begins


Evgeny Plushenko of Russia during a practice session at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. EPA/BARBARA WALTON

SOCHI, Russia — Led by its aging sporting icon, three-time Olympic medalist Evgeni Plushenko, Russia will attempt to reclaim its glorious figure-skating past tonight at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace, where the inaugural Olympic figure-skating team event gets under way.

Plushenko, 31, the 2006 Olympic champion and 2002 and 2010 silver medalist, has scarcely competed since undergoing back surgery in February 2013. He returned to the ice in November to post minimum qualifying scores for the 2014 Games, only to be out-performed by a rising teenage countryman at the Russian Championships in December. With it, Plushenko’s dream of making Sochi the “curtain-closing event,” as he put it, of his storied career appeared over.

But in a private performance, Plushenko  convinced officials to award him to Russia’s lone men’s spot in the 2014 Games, giving him the opportunity to win two more Olympic medals before retiring — in the men’s event and as the anchor of Russia’s entry in the new team event.

Despite Plushenko’s numerous titles and prodigious ego, he’s not expected to be the best men’s skater on the ice tonight. Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada holds the world record for highest total marks, and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu is currently ranked No. 1 in the world. But Plushenko, beloved in his homeland, will no doubt be the evening’s star.

Ten countries qualified to compete in the inaugural Olympic team event based on their skaters’ international results over the past season. Under the format, each country will designate one man, one woman, one pair and one dance couple to compete their short programs, with points awarded for each. The five countries with the lowest combined totals will be eliminated.

The countries that advance will choose six skaters to perform their long programs on Sunday, granted the option of making substitutions.

The three-day competition starts Thursday, the day before Opening Ceremonies, with the men’s and pairs short programs. Taking the ice for the United States will be tour-time and defending national champion Jeremey Abbott (men’s) and two-time national champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (pairs).

The competition resumes Saturday, with the dance and women’s short programs, followed by the pairs long program. It concludes Sunday with the long programs in the remaining four disciplines.

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