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Yevgeny Plushenko picks Yuzuru Hanyu as likely PyeongChang Olympic champion

Yevgeny Plushenko and Yuzuru Hanyu
USA Today Sports/ NBC Olympics

Yevgeny Plushenko picks Yuzuru Hanyu as likely PyeongChang Olympic champion

"He needs three quadruples. Maybe two Sal[chows] and one toe loop. And that's it," said Plushenko.

NEW YORK – Russian figure skating legend Yevgeny Plushenko thinks Yuzuru Hanyu will earn a second straight gold medal in PyeongChang for one simple reason.

“Because he is the best,” Plushenko said in an NBCOlympics.com sit-down interview Monday. He was performing in the United States for the first time in 11 years as part of a show with the Ice Theater of New York.  

“He doesn’t need five quads, six quads. He need[s] three quadruples. Maybe two Sal[chows] and one toe loop. And that’s it.”

Hanyu, from Japan, would become the first men’s singles skater to repeat as Olympic champion since the U.S.’ Dick Button did it in 1948 and 1952.

Plushenko admits that Hanyu is a different skater now than when he captured gold in Sochi. Plushenko said he has known Hanyu since he was a child, and the two met when Hanyu was 8 or 10 years old. He remembers a young Hanyu as “thin” and “fast.”

“I said, ‘this guy can be [a] good skater,’” he recalled.

Likely joining Hanyu on the podium, Plushenko predicted, should be Spain’s Javier Fernandez – another skater he has known since he was young. Plushenko and Fernandez once shared a coach in Alexei Mishin, though Fernandez now trains in Toronto with two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser. They crossed paths when Plushenko briefly trained in Spain.

“I know him very well,” Plushenko said of Fernandez, the 2015 and 2016 world champion. “He was a very bad skater. Then he went off and going, going, going, and now he is the best in the world.”

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Other likely podium contenders include recent Grand Prix Rostelecom Cup champion Nathan Chen, who is known for his quad prowess. Plushenko and Chen have met before, he said, but the older skater didn’t pass on any words of wisdom. However, Chen has said that he was inspired to begin skating after watching the 2002 Olympics in his hometown of Salt Lake City, where Plushenko earned a silver behind countryman Alexei Yagudin.  

Rounding out Plushenko’s podium picks is Hanyu’s countryman Shoma Uno, who won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships behind Hanyu.

When asked which men he thinks is the best jumping technician, Plushenko picked Chen.

“He [has] great, great, great, great technique,” he said. Plushenko was quick to add that he is happy to see the recent quad revolution take over men’s skating. Plushenko captured a silver medal behind the U.S.’ Evan Lysacek at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, despite Lysacek not attempting any quads.

“I’m so happy, I would like to say, for these guys. Because you remember 2010, nobody landed quads. Not one. Nobody. I landed [a quad in both the] short program and long program, and I lost, you know? For these such great athletes – men’s skaters – they move figure skating way forward. Right now, all quadruples. Nathan Chen, first skater ever, he did five quadruples. That’s awesome. That’s great, because figure skating, yes, it’s theater, this is ballet, musical. But of course, it’s sport. I’m grateful they move forward.”

Plushenko, who won a gold medal in the inaugural team event in Sochi, believes that it’s possible Russia can repeat as champions in PyeongChang.

He remembered leading into Sochi Games, and being unsure of which medal Team Russia might earn.

“At that time, it was big event,” he said. “I start first. I need to show to my team that we can make it and I skate clean. Everybody skate clean. I remember before Olympic Games, everybody says, Russian Federation says, ‘Well, maybe we can have bronze?’ Then said, ‘Oh, maybe we have silver?’ Nobody believe. So after the short program, [putting his hands up in the air] ‘Yeah! First place! We can make it.’ We did good job that time.”

He cited two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva and the junior world champion Alina Zagitova as strong contenders on the women’s side, and noted that rising teenaged star Alexander Samarin could play a factor for the men. Samarin recently debuted on the senior ranks and captured a bronze medal at Skate Canada.

Ice dance is strong in Russia, and pairs is even more so: the gold and silver pairs medalists at the Sochi Games were both Russian teams.

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Six months ago, Plushenko opened a skating school in Moscow that boasts a spa and hotel. Six of his skaters at the junior level made the podium over the weekend at smaller events, he said.

His most famous pupil is Adelina Sotnikova, who became Russia’s first-ever ladies Olympic champion in Sochi. He took on her coaching in April 2017. However, she has been sidelined with an ankle injury recently and will not attempt to qualify for the PyeongChang Games. Right now, Plushenko joked, Sotnikova is balancing her celebrity status with doctors’ visits.

“[Sotnikova] is a little bit injured right now, but I hope she can skate,” he said, adding that she competed and danced well on Russia’s Dancing with the Stars. “We will try for next year, come back, and do our job.”

As for his own career, which ended when he withdrew minutes before the start of his competition in the men’s short program in Sochi, he is definitely finished. After drawing a comparison to the way Jamaican track star Usain Bolt’s career ended – also with an injury in his final competition – Plushenko said he never thought about it like that.

“[Bolt] is a superstar. He is my hero. He is awesome. He is from a different planet.”

He has had a total of 15 surgeries, he said, including one on his spine a week after Sochi.

“Oh yeah, I am done. That’s it. I’m out.”

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