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Hanyu dazzles in team competition

Hanyu upstages boyhood hero Plushenko in short program

by Jack Gallagher

Staff writer

Japan is in fourth place after the first day of action in the inaugural team figure skating event at the Sochi Olympic Games on Thursday night.

Russia leads the three-day competition with a total of 19 points, while Canada is second with 17 and China stands third on 15.

The Russians were paced by Evgeni Plushenko, who was second in singles, and the pairs team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, which placed first.

Boosted by Yuzuru Hanyu’s sensational short program, Japan was in the lead after the men’s portion, which earned 10 points.

Hanyu was superb to “Parisian Walkways” and received an impressive score of 97.98.

Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara skated first in the pairs to “Samson and Delilah” and received a mark of 46.56, which puts them in eighth place. Their score brought Japan only three points and dropped it out of the top three.

Skating last, Hanyu soared on his opening quad toe loop, then landed a triple axel and a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination in a masterful effort.

His spins were sublime and edge work smooth in his Olympic debut. He appeared poised skating before the largely Russian audience, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

“I was incredibly nervous. It’s the Olympics, and all the skaters here are brilliant,” Hanyu said. “I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time.”

The Sendai native feels like a load was lifted off his shoulders after breaking the ice, so to speak.

“I felt a lot of pressure, but now that I’ve got a taste of what it feels like, I should be able to handle the pressure in the singles much better,” he stated.

Hanyu’s coach, Brian Orser, struck a calm tone when asked about his prize skater’s performance.

“Just right. Not too much, not too little,” Orser said. “There were scrappy moments, but that’s OK. Coming here, his psyche was this performance.”

Plushenko performed to “Tango de Roxanne” and received raucous support from the partisan home crowd. The 2002 gold medalist in Salt Lake City opened with a nice quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, then hit a triple axel and triple lutz and stands in second place on 91.39.

Plushenko has not skated in international competition since the 2010 season, when he took the silver medal behind American Evan Lysacek at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Now 31, Plushenko did not appear rusty and displayed the charisma that fans and judges both like.

“It is so difficult skating in an Olympics at home because many people are here, waiting for something incredible,” Plushenko noted.

Plushenko, a three-time world champion, seemed content with his work.

“I am happy with everything,” he said. “I finally did a clean program. I did my quad toe/triple toe so I am happy.”

The 19-year-old Hanyu, who idolized Plushenko as a youngster, was thrilled to be skating against the legend.

“Plushenko to me is a hero and it felt great just to take the same ice as him,” stated Hanyu. “I gave everything I had today and used all of my power.”

Patrick Chan two-footed the landing on his triple axel and ended up third on 89.71. The three-time defending world champion, who competed to Rachmaninov’s “Elegie,” seemed just a bit off his game this night.

“It wasn’t the best, obviously, but I’ve learned that I enjoy what I do,” Chan said. “The crowd was great and I could feel the energy out there.”

American Jeremy Abbott struggled in his program to “Lillies of the Valley” and scored only 65.65, putting him in seventh. Abbott, a four-time U.S. champion, fell on his opening quad toe loop and then singled a planned triple axel in a lackluster performance.

Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford stand in second in pairs, which combined with Chan’s score put the Canadians in second place.

China’s combination of Yan Han (fourth in singles), and Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao (third in pairs) moved it ahead of Japan.

After a break on Friday for the Opening Ceremony, the team event will resume on Saturday with the short dance, women’s short program and free skate for pairs.