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Olympic champ wins his fourth world title

So much has happened to Alexei Yagudin in the past year.

He lost the world championship after owning it for three consecutive years. He had leg injuries, dropped 20 pounds, regained most of it and came back to win the Olympics.

Thursday, the Russian recaptured "his" title by taking the men's free skate at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Yagudin became the first to win skating's four major titles in one season: the Grand Prix final, European championship, Olympics and worlds.

He edged American Tim Goebel, who improved on his third place at the Olympics, and local star Takeshi Honda finished third.

For Yagudin, the Olympic gold was the high point of the season.

"I am just 22 years old, and for 17 years, I had been working for what I really wanted to get, the Olympic gold," Yagudin said. "And it is impossible to describe it all.

"I will write a book about it to tell it all."

Last summer, he practically fasted and lost 20 pounds and too much strength. He skated poorly at the Goodwill Games in September.

Then he rededicated himself and went unbeaten for the rest of the season.

Yagudin demonstrated he is nearly unbeatable, completing two quads and six triples, an identical routine to his victory in Salt Lake City.

He opened his routine with a quad-triple-double combination and seconds later hit another quadruple jump. A triple axel was so high he finished the rotations well before coming down.

Yagudin's routine earned him perfect 6.0 scores for presentation from the Azerbaijani and German judges. The rest were 5.8s and 5.9s.

Yagudin reclaimed what he believes is his own.

"I had this title for three years in a row, and then, unfortunately, I lost it last year," Yagudin said. "It was pretty hard to get the fourth one, and I kind of lost it. This time, I am very happy I decided to come to this championship."

Goebel's was the best performance by an American at the worlds since Todd Eldredge earned silver in 1998.

As at the Olympics, Goebel had three quadruple jumps. But he had trouble with some triples. His high technical marks that almost challenged Yagudin were offset by presentation scores ranging from only 5.5 to 5.8.

Goebel said he was happy to make it to the finish.

"I really wanted to survive this competition," Goebel said. "I had to fight all the way through. And ending up with a medal with the way I kept fighting through the program means more than when you have one of those perfect skates."

American men have won a medal at worlds eight consecutive years.

Honda had a quad-triple combination but fell on another attempt.

Russian Evgeny Plushenko did not defend his title because of a knee injury. He was second to Yagudin at the Olympics.

Alexander Abt, second entering the free skate, dropped to fourth. Li Chengjiang was fifth.

Michael Weiss, the 1999 and 2000 U.S. champion and two-time world bronze medalist, finished sixth, falling on an attempt to become the first skater to land a quadruple lutz in competition.

Meanwhile, Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh led the ice dancing after the original program.

The Olympic silver medalists had the top marks in the section in which all couples do a routine to a Spanish medley. The free dance is today.

Second were Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. The fourth-place finishers at Salt Lake City were in contention after the Olympic gold and bronze medalists skipped the event.

Third were Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas.

Four-time U.S. champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev were ninth.

The women's event continues today with the short program. Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya won their qualifiers Wednesday.