Feb 06, 2014

    Hot rivalries on ice in Sochi


    FIGURE skating veteran Yevgeny Plushenko is the "talk of the town" following his controversial selection for the Sochi Olympics, but world champion Patrick Chan is more concerned about the threat posed by Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Daisuke Takahashi.

    The figure skaters will be battling to get their nations off to a golden start in the team competition that starts today - a day before the Games' official opening ceremony.

    Plushenko, 31, was picked as Russia's only male skater despite failing to win his country's national championships.

    "That is the talk of the town," Chan said. "It is drama-filled. I mean, who would have thought that after the results at the Russian nationals and Europeans, the decision was made to send him?"

    Plushenko is certainly a wild card. He has been virtually absent from competition since earning a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games - opting to skip every world championship in the last Olympic cycle and undergoing back surgery.

    But Chan conceded that he himself is locked in a mental struggle to overcome jitters and his own doubts about his ability to beat Hanyu, who out-skated him in the Grand Prix final in Fukuoka, Japan.

    "It is like I have a devil on my shoulder," he said. "It is a constant battle...thinking about, 'Oh, am I going to beat them even at my best', because I started questioning that as a result of the Grand Prix final."

    The inaugural 10-team event will kick off with the men's short programme, with Canada, Russia and the United States as favourites with strong representatives in all four categories - men, women, pairs and ice dancing.

    "Canada is the top seed. We're definitely looking for our team to win gold in this event," said Canadian pairs skater Dylan Moscovitch.

    The US won the world team trophy last year and in 2009, while Japan won in 2012.

    "The team medal is the first that is at stake and it's very important and prestigious. So there's a lot of responsibility on our whole team," said Plushenko's coach, Alexei Mishin.

    In the individual events starting next week, Chan will enter as favourite for the men's gold, with South Korea's Kim Yu Na the star of the women's event.

    If he wins the individual gold, Chan would become the first Canadian man to do so. The 22-year-old, who finished fifth in Vancouver, has won the last three world titles.

    Kim, 23, will defend her title after 18 months off following her Vancouver success and an Olympic season hampered by a right-foot injury.

    She won the world title last year and will be bidding to become the first woman since Katarina Witt in 1988 to retain the Olympic title.

    Japan's Mao Asada, 23, a two-time world champion, is her biggest challenger after taking silver in Vancouver.

    Russian Julia Lipnitskaia, who at 15 became the youngest European champion last month, is also a medal hope, along with Italy's Carolina Kostner and Americans Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner.

    Russia will be looking for titles after their failure to land gold in Vancouver, with world pairs champions Volosozhar and Trankov their biggest hope.

    China have two pairs medal hopes - Olympic silver medallists Pang Qing and Tong Jian, and teammates Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao.