"" March 7, 2005
By Sal Zanca

Over the past several years, Evgeny Plushenko has proven he knows what it takes to win. The talented Russian has three World titles to his name, four European titles, four Grand Prix Final titles and six Russian titles.

With all those medals draped around his neck, it's tempting to think it all comes easy to Plushenko. Nothing could be further from the truth.

During his career, Plushenko has faced strong competition from skaters such as Alexei Yagudin and Brian Joubert, and he has been forced to work hard to stay on top. Now all of those years of extraordinary effort might finally be wearing on him.

"I am tired this year because I have had a lot of competitions," Plushenko said earlier this year. "For 10 years I have skated in a lot of competitions."

Plushenko first caught the attention of international skating fans when he won the 1997 World Junior title (December 1996). In the years that have followed he has been one of the most consistent skaters in the world ≈ he has finished in the top two in the European Championships every year since 1998 (with the exception of 2002, when he did not compete) and in the top three at the World Championships five times. Overall, since finishing second to Yagudin at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Plushenko has won nearly every competition he has entered.

But his desire appears to be waning and the victories are losing their glamour.

After winning the Grand Prix Final in December - a competition in which he grudgingly agreed to participate - Plushenko said, "When I started skating, the first time, the Grand Prix Final was kind of like a World Championship. This year I think, ▒O.K., it is not a big title for me.'"

Following his victory at the Grand Prix Final, Plushenko went to Torino for the European Championships. After a miss in his short program to "Moonlight Sonata," he came back to win the free skate and the event. And again, he was less than enthusiastic about his victory.

"This was the fourth time," Plushenko said after his victory. "It is not like the first time."

Put aside his muted reactions and his admittedly aching knees and back, however, and what you end up with is a skater who still can put together routines others can only dream of.

In his repertoire are several extremely difficult elements, such as a triple Axel into a triple flip, and a quad-triple-double combination that earns loads of points in the new scoring system. And with Plushenko there is always talk of another quad or two.

True, he misses sometimes - his errors at the 2004 European Championships cost him the title - but the misses are rare and for now at least, few can match his ability.

But there is one miss that haunts him and keeps him working through the pain and the exhaustion - a fall on an attempted quad during the short program at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. That fall kept him from winning a coveted Olympic gold medal, the only major title missing from his list of accomplishments.

"That's my dream. I have all titles but I don't have an Olympic title," Plushenko said. "I look forward to Torino."



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