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Evgeni and everyone else

Plushenko cruises to gold; Weir's wild ride falls short

Posted: Thursday February 16, 2006 8:02PM; Updated: Friday February 17, 2006 10:15AM
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Evgeni Plushenko
The only questions Thursday were by how much Evgeni Plushenko was going to win his gold and who would get silver and bronze.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

It was more a coronation than a competition at Turin's Palavela Arena on Thursday night, as Russia's Evgeni Plushenko, performing with the technical brilliance and swagger that sets him apart from the field, obliterated his rivals for the men's figure skating gold -- winning by a staggering 27.12 points.

No one was terribly surprised. He set the stage in Tuesday's short program by compiling a 10-point lead, then brought down the curtain in the first 90 seconds of his free program by landing a quad toe loop-triple toe loop-double loop combination, followed in quick succession by a clean triple axel-double toe, a triple loop, another triple axel, then a triple lutz. The party was over, and the last three minutes of his skate might as well have been a victory parade.

Unfortunately, no one turned out the lights, because what was to follow was often difficult to bear. How bad was it? Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel, the defending world champ, followed Plushenko with a middling performance that included a fall on a triple lutz, a spinout and hand down on a quad, and a triple axel that was abbreviated into a double -- and he still won silver.

Lambiel's struggles appeared to leave the door wide open for three-time U.S. champ Johnny Weir, who had become a media darling and certified quote machine since arriving in Turin and finishing second in the short program.

Johnny stories were everywhere. He skated while wearing a glove he'd named "Camille." He called himself "princessy" and spoke of "doing his hair and fake face" before competing. He wore his CCCP Soviet-era sweatshirt while warming up in practices. He had taught himself Russian and said that while Plushenko was modern Russia, he -- Johnny -- was Baryshnikov-era Russia. He mopped the floor in the village because it was filthy. He went clothes- and shoe-shopping in Turin with Philadelphia TV newsman Vai Sikahema, the former Eagles kick returner, preening and gushing and handing Sikahema half a dozen shopping bags to carry. A self-proclaimed "fashionista," he bragged about his python and beaver fur coat.