Alexei Yagudin's courage was matched by Yevgeny Plushchenko's brilliance. And Todd Eldredge was lurking, sandwiched between the two after Tuesday's short program at the World Championships.
After four painkilling injections in his injured right foot, Yagudin performed well but trailed fellow Russian Plushchenko.
Americans Eldredge and Timothy Goebel stood second and fourth. Goebel, watching on television backstage, even applauded Eldredge's performance.
Eldredge came close to Plushchenko in presentation, but his marks were somewhat low, partly because he didn't attempt a quadruple jump.
"You play the course, you don't play the other guys," Eldredge said. "I know I did technically an easier element in my combination than the other guys, so I knew it would be a little lower. It's all right. I did what I wanted to do."
For Yagudin, the warmup was almost as significant as the performance.
"It was hard because of the memories of (Monday)," Yagudin said of his poor qualifying performance, in which he was fifth and flopped all over the ice. "It was still in my head. It was really hard to be focused."
Plushchenko landed every element of his routine, though he had to fight to pull in the landing on his quad toe-triple toe combination.
Thursday's free skate is worth 50 percent of the score.
PAIRS: Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the short program late Monday. China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo edged Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier 5-4 for second place. Any of the three can win gold today by winning the free skate, worth two-thirds of the total score.