SOCHI, Russia — Evgeny Plushenko's saga seems to come from an epic Russian novel. Triumph. Controversy. Injury. Carping. Mystery.
Most expected the competitive figure skating part of his life story to have been consigned to history by now. But Plushenko, 31, who has won medals in the past three Olympics, is back, larger than life, the most celebrated Russian in an individual sport at the country's first Winter Olympics.
As if to emphasize his stature, he got the spotlight first, competing in Thursday's men's short program of the new team figure skating event a day before the opening ceremony. Plushenko delivered a delectable buffet skating to Tango de Roxanne for a rapturous home crowd. "It was incredible, right?" Plushenko said to nbcolympics.com.
He finished second to Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, and with reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov winning the pairs short program, Russia led with 19 points heading into Saturday's women's and dance short programs. Canada had 17, China 15. The team scores run from 10 to 1 in each program, based on where each country's entry ranks in the individual scores.
The United States, with 10 points, was seventh after tiebreakers among the 10 nations. The top five countries advance to the free skates, a cut made Saturday. The Americans were hurt by falls and botched jumps from U.S. champions Jeremy Abbott and pairs team Marissa Castelli-Simon Shnapir.
For Abbott, a four-time U.S. champ, it was yet another rocky performance at a major international event. Afterward, he said he told himself: "All right, I had my Olympic disaster, and now I can move on and do what I came here to do."
Favorites on track: Defending women's moguls gold medalist Hannah Kearney of the United States easily topped qualifying to move into Saturday's final in freestyle skiing. … In slopestyle snowboarding's Olympic competition debut, Canadian Winter X Games champ Max Parrot made Saturday's final with 97.5 points — 21/2 short of perfect — in a qualifying run punctuated by a triple-flipping jump with a solid landing. On the women's side, American gold-medal favorite Jamie Anderson had no problem making the final the day after banging up her back in practice. She called the course conditions, which have been criticized by riders, "questionable," especially for the women.
NHL stars out: Canucks forward Henrik Sedin said he is physically unable to play for Sweden. Canucks coach John Tortorella said he was shutting down Sedin for the final two games before the Olympic break, which begins Sunday. Sedin had played two games after missing six with bruised ribs. … Blue Jackets forward Marian Gaborik withdrew from the Slovakian team because he is not recovered from a broken collarbone.