Best comeback since Lemieux?

Evgeni Plushenko

Evgeni Plushenko / courtesy New York Times

By Nathan White

It’s risky admitting to turning away from a Canadian Olympic hockey game to watch figure skating.

Evgeni Plushenko is just the kind of athlete to make it worth admitting.

I began to develop respect for figure skating in the lead-up to the 2006 Olympics in Turin, which I was covering for the Telegraph-Journal. Following Edmundston, N.B., native Shawn Sawyer on his road to qualifying, I realized the incredible dedication these athletes put into the sport. On the ice twice a day, with workouts in between, developing incredible stamina and legs to make Michelangelo’s David jealous.

Sawyer was thrilled  after excelling in the short program, taking the ice directly after Plushenko, who went on to the gold medal in Turin. I also remember Sawyer’s appreciation for Plushenko as an athlete and a competitor. Sawyer acknowledged Plushenko was the favourite, and relished the chance to have the powerful Russian serve as his opening act. Sawyer knew he had little chance of beating Plushenko, but at least the fans were paying close attention when Sawyer followed him on the ice.

Plushenko has a long list of accomplishments to go with 2006 gold, including a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and countless decorations at world and European championships. His participation at this year’s Olympics is even more amazing, considering he took a three-year hiatus and hasn’t even been back training for a full year.

When he took the ice for the short program Tuesday night after young Canadian Vaughn Chipeur of Lloydminster, Sask., Plushenko immediately captured the crowd with his confident possession of the ice surface. Soon he was busting out quads and triples that made you wonder if the other skaters were even practising the same sport.

A few minutes later, he had a new Olympic record with a score of 90.85. I can’t think of another athlete who left his sport at the top, took three years off, and immediately returned to competition at such an exceptional level.

The closest that comes to mind is Pittsburgh Penguins legend (and 2002 Canadian Olympic hero) Mario Lemieux, who averaged more than a point a game from 2000 to 2003 after taking three years off. But even the Magnificent One wasn’t setting NHL records, or even winning scoring titles at that stage of his career.

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~ by Nathan White on February 16, 2010.

One Response to “Best comeback since Lemieux?”

  1. Maybe he will make figure skating really manly. High school students will point and laugh if a peer cannot triple axle. I just watched his performance and I feel like I could fix all my car problems and drink 24 cold ones.

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