By Salvatore Zanca
for U.S. Figure Skating Association

Evgeni Plushenko remembers the first time he did a quadruple jump.

"I was 14 when I landed the quad," the Russian said. "I think it was in Sweden."

Returning to Sweden, Plushenko took his third European title last month in Malmo and now looks to Washington, D.C., to regain the World title that he won in 2001.

Since his first quad nearly six years ago, he has done almost 50 in competition, challenging the count of Tim Goebel. Although Goebel does them in bunches (three in one program at times), Plushenko has been very consistent and is looking for more.

"It▓s possible to do all the quads," Plushenko said. "Sometimes in practice nothing works for one or two months. Then you come back from a holiday and you land several quads."

He has been landing the quadruple Salchow in practice this season but has yet to put it in his program.

"In Russia I have landed the quad flip and quad Lutz," Plushenko said.

But of all the quads he has done, the one he fell on in the short program at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games is the one that cost him the most. He lost his chance for the gold medal - which rival Alexei Yagudin later won. Plushenko has taken a positive view of what happened in Salt Lake City.

"To win a silver medal before I was 20 is not so bad," Plushenko said.

Now Yagudin is on the sidelines with a hip injury, but that doesn't change Plushenko▓s attitude to skating.

"I don't compete against anybody. I just want to compete for myself and do well," he said. "It was what I did in the past and will continue to do in the future."

This season he is presenting a new Plushenko, more on the artistic side after being criticized for so many years for relying on his jumping ability. A star of the famed Kirov Ballet, Kyrill Simonov, worked on Plushenko▓s choreography this season. He is skating to a piece of music that celebrates the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, Russia.

"We are a very balletic country, and I feel the music and I think I can interpret it very well," Plushenko said.

Plushenko easily won the Grand Prix Series events in Germany and Russia to qualify for the Grand Prix Final again. However he had to miss the Russian championships because of a bout with the flu. That gave Alexander Abt a chance to win the title that Plushenko had won since 1999. Plushenko returned at the European Championships.

At Malmo his only misstep was when he hit a hole in the ice going up for the second part of his combination in the short program after the quad.

"It was very unexpected," Plushenko said. "But it happens sometimes."

In the free skate he didn't miss at all, doing a quad and eight triples, deciding beforehand with his coach Alexei Mishin to take it easy.

"Here it was enough, but in the future I will need the quad-triple-triple combination and the second quad," Plushenko said.

His first World Championships was as a replacement for Ilia Kulik, the 1998 Olympic champion who decided not to go to Worlds in Minneapolis that year. Plushenko, as a 16-year old, came in third behind Yagudin and Todd Eldredge. Then he traded wins with Yagudin over the next three years, but Yagudin won the big prize ≈ the Olympic gold. Last season was difficult for Plushenko as minor injuries kept him from competing in the Europeans and Worlds.

"Last year was quite hard for me. I missed two major competitions and was able to come back and win again," Plushenko said.

And he hopes to keep winning a lot. He is counting on competing through the Olympics of 2010, "if I am healthy," he said.



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