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Plushenko's flawless routine all but locks up gold

ON THE ICE: Russia's Evgeni Plushenko has practically locked up the gold medal, scoring a personal best 90.66, the highest for any short program since the new scoring system was adopted three years ago.

American Johnny Weir was in second, more than 10 points back. He was among the first to recognize that Plushenko's lead may be insurmountable.

"I've been touted as America's next medal hope. As long as I go well, I can't see why not. I will definitely race for silver," he said.

Plushenko nailed every element, from a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination to a solid triple axel to complex footwork into a triple lutz. Only when his final combination spin ended did he lighten up, going from intense concentration to a series of fist pumps. He seemed more relieved than excited.

Though he was playful while he awaited his marks - kissing his wedding ring and blowing kisses into the camera for his wife, Maria - he was all business on the ice. He never gave a hint of a smile as he skated to Tosca, displaying all the tortured passion from Puccini's opera.

"I am very happy I achieved a new personal best," said Plushenko, who admitted he was a "little bit sick" earlier this week. "I did it in the Olympic Games. It is very important to me. Everything was clean.

"It's a lot of pressure right now, guys, come on."

Stephane Lambiel conceded with his first element, hitting a double axel instead of the triple all of the other top men do, and sits third behind Weir. France's Brian Joubert botched his combination jump and is fourth.

QUICK HITS: Plushenko's technical score (49.69) was higher than each of the bottom three men's total scores.

UP NEXT: Thursday, free program.

ICE MEN COMETH

Male figure skating contenders and how they stand after Tuesday's short program:

SKATER 1. Evgeni Plushenko 2. Johnny Weir 3. Stephane Lambiel

COUNTRY RUSSIA USA SWITZ.

AGE 23 21 20

HEIGHT

+ 5'10" 5'9" 5'9"

OLYMPIC

MEDAL Silver

WORLD Gold (2) Gold

MEDAL Silver (1)

Bronze (2)

NOTES Heavy favorite; has Won the past Won 2005 world

battled injuries three U.S. championships

since silver medal titles, but in absence of

at Salt Lake Games no medals at injured

worlds Plushenko

SHORT Nailed every Score, 80, Lost any chance

PROGRAM element in program. was personal for first by

NOTES Has almost best after messing up

insurmountable impressive opening

10-point lead. triple jumps. element.

SKATER 4. Brian Joubert 6. Jeff Buttle 10. Evan Lysacek

COUNTRY FRANCE CANADA USA

AGE 21 23 20

HEIGHT

+ 5'10" 5'8" 5' 11"

OLYMPIC

MEDAL

WORLD Silver Silver Bronze

MEDAL

NOTES Changed coaches Winner of the Finished second

three times in past two behind Weir at

the past two years Canadian last national

titles championships

SHORT Botched his Ruined by Crashed on

PROGRAM combination jump. fall on triple opening triple

NOTES axel. axel. Cut triple

flip to a double.

+ Converted from metric for foreign skaters

Sources: International Skating Union, U. S. Olympic Committee

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