Plushenko wins European gold handily; Lambiel recovers to take silver

By Jim Heintz, AP
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Plushenko wins European gold handily

TALLINN, Estonia — Evgeni Plushenko aced his last major test before seeking a second consecutive Olympic gold next month by winning the European figure skating championships on Thursday.

The Russian’s solid free program included his typical technical finesse — and a surprising error. There were gasps in the audience when he unexpectedly doubled a triple lutz, a jump that almost could be seen as routine for him.

Plushenko said he may have missed it because he’s been working on a quad lutz “and maybe I just have to concentrate on the triple.”

It was otherwise a characteristic Plushenko performance, full of cool, clean jumps, elegant steps and a dash of cockiness in keeping with the tango music.

But he wasn’t ready to declare himself fully back from a three-year layoff, even if the cheering crowd was.

“It wasn’t an Olympic performance today. I have to do a second quad,” he said.

He didn’t need one in Tallinn. Last year’s European champion Brian Joubert, in second place after the short program, skated just before Plushenko and both his quad attempts went bad — stepping out on the first and doubling the second. He ended with bronze.

Stephane Lambiel, who skated after Plushenko, also was planning two quads. But he was a distant fifth after a badly troubled short program and Plushenko apparently felt little pressure.

Lambiel put a hand down on the first quad, and later fell during what appeared to be a simple part of his steps sequence, but was strong enough to rise up to the silver medal.

“For me, this was, wow, hard,” Lambiel said. After his short program problems he was nervous and “when I went out on the ice today I just said to myself ‘follow the music,’” — a joyous medley of tunes from La Traviata.

Earlier, ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin held on to their lead with an original dance to Australian Aboriginal music that pushed the boundaries of the discipline.

The program has also sparked controversy since the Russian couple debuted it three weeks ago in St. Petersburg, Russia. Australian media on Thursday cited Aboriginal leaders as complaining that the routine is offensive cultural theft, with inauthentic steps and gaudy costumes.

The original dance theme at the European championships is described as a “folk/country dance,” but it doesn’t have to be native to the skaters; about 20 percent of the couples chose dances from cultures other than their own.

In light of that, Domnina suggested “every country should make such a statement of complaint.” She said she hadn’t heard about the controversy and appeared amused when informed of it.

Shabalin later said that although neither of them have been to Australia, they aimed for authenticity by doing research on the Internet.

Whatever its sociological implications, the program expands ice dancing’s possibilities as vividly as the all-drums routine done a decade ago by Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov.

The music — a keening voice, rattling percussion and a didgeridoo — has almost nothing recognizable to Westerners as a melody or time signature. The audience appeared perplexed and hesitant throughout much of the program, but cheered at the conclusion.

The judges also gave the program content high marks — two points more than segment winners Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy, who incrementally beat the Russians with higher technical marks.

The Italians, who are second overall, took a more traditional approach, skating to a native tarantella and incorporating moves characteristic of various regions.

“It’s really, really cool for us to bring this deeply folkloric stuff to the ice,” Scali said.

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia were third.

Free dance, the final ice dancing segment, takes place on Friday.

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