Flailing Russians feeling heat

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Evgeni Plushenko could hardly be heard in the overcrowded Pacific Coliseum media zone. But, yes, he said, he was feeling even more pressure to win the gold medal in men’s singles figure skating with his compatriots performing so poorly at these Games.

“Everybody is saying, ‘you must, you must.’ I was warming up and I saw myself on the TV and the rankings (of Russian athletes),” he said. “There is a lot of pressure.”

The defending Olympic gold medallist, who came out of retirement to compete in Vancouver, had just laid down a spectacular short program, nailing a quad toe-triple toe combination in his short program Tuesday night, and is first heading into the men’s freeskate on Thursday. But between jokes about being too fat, Plushenko admitted that Team Russia is indeed starting to feel the heat in Vancouver.

The Russians finished fourth in the medal table at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics with 22 total medals, including eight gold. Canada was fifth with two more medals but one less gold.

At the time of Plushenko’s brilliant short program on Tuesday night, the Russians had all of one medal, a bronze by Ivan Skobrev in 5,000-metres men’s speed skating. Germany is in the lead with nine and Canada has five, including two gold.

Russia usually does brilliantly in figure skating, but success in even that discipline is in doubt.

When a Russian pairs team failed to medal earlier this week, they broke a streak that has seen a Russian or Soviet couple win every Olympic pairs title dating back to 1964. (The gold was shared with the Canadian pairs team of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.)

Russia’s showing is becoming a source of embarrassment in Vancouver.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

POLL