Russian Evgeny Plushenko did not glitter nearly as much as his sequined silver and black vest and matching sequined gloves, and he did not sail through his program as breezily as his airy white blouse, but he did what he needed to do last night at MCI Center to win his second world title at the World Figure Skating Championships.
In a fight between two men at less-than-full health, Plushenko overcame a sore knee and mustered slightly more of a finale -- in the eyes of the judging panel -- than the recently flu-stricken American Tim Goebel, who began the night in second place and couldn't move up despite a stalwart program that was greater in difficulty than Plushenko's and brought the crowd of 10,059 to its feet.
All in all, the men's competition fizzled at the finish, as the duel between Plushenko and Goebel, who earned his second straight world silver medal, felt more like a quest for survival. Japan's Takeshi Honda claimed the bronze medal and McLean's Michael Weiss, who began the night in fourth place, made an assortment of mistakes and dropped to fifth behind China's Chengjiang Li.
"It's nice to win the second time," Plushenko said. "There was a lot of pressure . . . It was hard. I'm very tired right now. My knee has been bothering me. Today the knee became all red."
Goebel seemed to skate with more energy than Plushenko and, in fact, seemed to grow in exuberance as his program went on. But despite hitting seven triples and two quadruple jumps -- the second of which caused him to break into a huge smile -- he couldn't top last year's Olympic silver medalist, who landed five clean triples and one quad in his dramatic, classical program.
If Goebel was disappointed that he failed to claim his first world gold medal, he did not show it. He seemed relieved to have come so far after missing the fall Grand Prix season with a hip injury, and performing so poorly at the U.S. championships in January that he did not land a single quad and finished second to Weiss.
"It's been such a hard year for me," Goebel said. "I had a disastrous nationals, and didn't have much time to prepare for this. I'm so happy to bounce back from nationals.
"I was thrilled with how I skated," he added later. "I don't think it's fair to comment on whether Plushenko was better or not."
Goebel seemed to cry and grin simultaneously at the conclusion of his program. His only mistake came when he put his hand down on his concluding triple loop. The mistake didn't appear to bother him in the least.
Nor did the fact that he did not receive a single first-place mark from any judge. His marks range from 5.7 to 5.9 for technical merit, and 5.7 to 5.8 for presentation.
"Not doing the Grand Prix series was to my detriment," Goebel said. "I can't expect to be marked well because [the perception is] it could have been a fluke thing."
Plushenko, considered the world's most well-rounded male skater, did not skate his best, and the crowd seemed to sense it. His first combination was impressive -- a quadruple toe-triple toe-double loop -- but the quad was two-footed and the double loop was intended to be a triple.
Plushenko fell out of a triple axel and lacked the ease and confidence he exuded in the qualifying round, easily his best skate of the week. Yet his balletic grace and dramatic choreography won over the judges. He received technical marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.9, but his presentation marks were consistently excellent: all 5.9s.
"I skated normal today," Plushenko said. "Not the best, but normal."
Honda, who began the night in third place, hoped for an upset, but he, too, made noticeable errors. He hit one quadruple jump and six triples in his stirring performance to "Riverdance," but he eliminated a planned combination and finished with a sloppy triple lutz. Still, his foot-tapping footwork energized the crowd and left him exhausted. When his music stopped, he stood with his arms at his side, chest heaving, trying to regain his breath.
He had actually planned a trio of quadruples, but he stepped out of a quad toe and turned a planned quad salchow into a triple. He also had to fight to hang on to a triple-triple combination, and his marks reflected technical deductions. His scores ranged from 5.4 to 5.6 for technical merit and 5.4 to 5.8 for presentation.
"When I missed the first quad jump combination, I was so surprised," he said. "However, I did not give up on the whole program . . . . Overall, the performance is good."
Last night represented a crushing blow for Weiss, a two-time world bronze medalist, who dreamed of winning the gold medal in his hometown championships. After falling on a critical jump in his short program, Weiss was all but out of contention for the title, but he still hoped to win the free skate and finish in the medals.
On this night he seemed uncharacteristically tentative from the start. He failed to hit either of two quadruple jumps, eliminated one combination and was off on several other elements.
"It was tough," Weiss said. "I don't know what happened. Sometimes it's there. Sometimes it isn't."
Notes: American Ryan Jahnke, who had skated mostly clean programs before last night, fell twice and stepped out of a triple axel. The mistakes cost him dearly; he dropped from seventh after the short program to 13th overall.