Plushenko regains footing, wins world crown

American Goebel thrills in 2nd-place performance

Weiss plummets to 5th

Figure Skating

March 28, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The ice is slippery, but Evgeni Plushenko is as crafty as his skates are sharp. Last night he stumbled here and there, but made up for it with his mesmerizing presentation and won his second World Figure Skating Championship.

The perfection that had marked his qualifying skate and the artistry that had been so strong in the short program were still there, but it also took some grit to pull off this victory after a fine performance by American Timothy Goebel, who finished second.

"Timothy skated very well, landing two quads," Plushenko said. "I did not watch him skate, but I knew what he did. For me, it was hard and I am very tired right now."

Plushenko's victory was not popular with the crowd, which had stood in riotous applause for Goebel. And the smile left Plushenko's face on the podium when the crowd booed.

But Goebel, who also was second in last year's worlds, said he was not disappointed.

"I think not doing the Grand Prix Series this year worked to my detriment here," Goebel said. "I think if I'd put in a few performances like this one tonight, maybe I would have been judged better. But really, to skate only one event well all year, I think I was fairly marked. My performance could have been a fluke."

Goebel had been all but perfect in his presentation, wavering only on his final spin. As Plushenko said, he landed two quads and seven triple jumps to take the lead. His body moved to the classic rhythm of An American in Paris with all the grace dancer Gene Kelly had shown in making the movie of the same name so memorable.

Perhaps, for a fleeting moment, Plushenko feared Goebel's rendition would be a classic, too. An American, after all, had not won the World Championship since Todd Eldredge in 1996.

Plushenko started with a triple combination of a quad toe-triple toe-double loop, but he stumbled coming out of the double. But he followed it up with another quad-toe. Later, he stumbled again coming out of a triple flip.

Trouble was brewing as the St. Petersburg 300, music written just for him in celebration of that city's anniversary, flooded over the nearly sold-out MCI Center.

But then came the graceful spins and tantalizing steps down the ice and all at once Plushenko was Plushenko again. It was a solid string of 5.9s on presentation that won the title, the sixth straight year it was won by a Russian.

"It's nicer to win the second time," said Plushenko, who won the 2001 title. "There was a lot of pain. My knee has been bothering me and it was all red before [tonight's] competition."

Japan's Takeshi Honda repeated as bronze medalist, holding on despite double-footing one of his two quad attempts and landing just six triples.

"When I missed the first quad jump combination, I was so surprised," Honda said. "However, I did not give up on the whole program."

American Michael Weiss, who had hoped to win a medal, wound up fifth after a disappointing performance in which he landed no quads and had to accept technical scores in the 5.2 to 5.5 range. His presentation was better, at 5.3 to 5.8. And, in the end, his fifth-place finish was one spot better than a year ago.

"It was tough," Weiss said. "I felt so good. I don't know what happened. ... But the competition was great until this program. I'll keep swinging. I'll get it right."

Earlier in the day, defending world ice dancing champions Irina Lobacheva and Illia Averbukh of Russia overcame nerves to take the lead after the original dance competition.

"It was difficult for us to skate," Averbukh said. "The audience knows the Canadian couple better than us and received them better. We were on enemy ground. Among the 14 judges on the panel, there was no Russian judge, and that made us nervous. We were happy that the audience didn't whistle when our marks came up and we were in first."

Going into tomorrow night's finals, the free dance, Canadian seven-time national champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz are in second place.

These worlds are special for both teams given this is the final time either will compete in the Olympic Eligible Division. For Bourne and Kraatz, who have been to nine world championships without winning, it is the last chance.

"When it is all over, it will be emotional," Bourne said. "Right now, we are keeping our focus. We have to skate good ... and it [the gold medal] is possible."

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