Canada's Chan diplomatic about presence of Russian star Evgeni Plushenko
Canada's Patrick Chan wipes his forehead as he listens to his coach during a figure skating practice at the Sochi Winter Olympics Wednesday, February 5, 2014 in Sochi. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, February 6, 2014 1:43AM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- Evgeni Plushenko kept a close eye on Patrick Chan as he went through his long program at practice Wednesday, a start to an anticipated showdown between the past and the present of men's figure skating's finest.
Chan, Canada's three-time defending world champion, has been diplomatic this week when asked if Russia was correct in naming Plushenko to the Olympic team, a controversial decision after the veteran skater finished behind Maxim Kovtun at the Russian national championships.
"Plushenko. . .that's the talk of the town," Chan said, in answering the first of several questions about the Olympic gold and two-time silver medallist. "It's exciting, it's drama-filled. Who would have thought after the results at Russian nationals . . .that the decision would be made to send him.
"I tip my hat off to him, that's experience, I'd be very distracted having to deal with the controversies and everything, and then having to compete in my home country and having to do the team event and the individual event. That's a lot of work for. . . how old is he? A 30-year old, 29-year-old."
Plushenko, who's actually 31, made his first public appearance in Sochi on Wednesday afternoon, taking the ice for the practice session right after Chan's. Looking lean in black pants and black T-shirt, his arms adorned with three large tattoos, Plushenko landed a huge quad that drew a cheer from the small crowd of officials assembled.
The Russian, who had surgery a year ago to replace a deteriorated disk in his spine, refused to speak with reporters afterward, breezing through the mixed zone saying several times "Everything is good, see you tomorrow."
The 23-year-old Chan and Plushenko will battle head-to-head Thursday night on the first day of the inaugural team event. It will be their first meeting since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics where the veteran Russian won silver behind American Evan Lysacek and Chan finished fifth.
"I really admire his perseverance to get here, I don't blame him for wanting to come here so badly," Chan said. "I competed at a home Games and I really wouldn't have let anyone stop from getting the position to compete at my home Games in Vancouver.
"I look forward to practising with him and being on the same warmup. Things have changed a lot since the last time I competed with him. So it will be fun."
What's changed is now Chan is the man to beat. He's won three world titles in the time since Plushenko last competed on the global ice. And while Plushenko once criticized skaters such as Chan and Lysacek for winning without quad jumps, Chan can now reel off textbook quads with relative ease and incredible grace.
Chan, who also had a strong practice Wednesday landing his two quads and triple Axel cleanly in his long program run-through, was measured in his response when he was asked whether Plushenko was his top rival in Sochi. He replied that he has plenty of rivals, listing Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Daisuke Takahashi, and American Jeremy Abbott among them.
Lysacek was also at the practice rink Wednesday, and applauded the Russian team's decision to name Plushenko to the Russian team.
"Personally I'm happy to see him here," said Lysacek, who is sidelined with an injury and is working for NBC at the Games. "I have so much respect for his career and the longevity he's had and that level of longevity is rare in any sport. I think he's a very fine athlete and a lot of people counted him out in Vancouver and he proved that he cannot be counted out.
"If I was competing I definitely would keep one eye on him at all times."
Lysacek added that Plushenko "looks like he's in good shape. . . and I would speculate that they wouldn't put him on the team if he wasn't ready."
Lysacek clapped with both hands raised over his head after watching Chan's program run-through.
"He looks great, I was happy to see him do a run-through today, I think that shows that he's in great shape and he's ready for the event," Lysacek said of Canada's top skater. "He's a very very fine athlete and has had great results over the last few seasons so I wish him well."