Thursday, November 29, 2012
The Old Man and the Ice: Evgeni Plushenko en route to Sochi
Let me start this post by assuring all of you readers that I chose the title of this post in deep respect and in the knowledge that old in figure skating terms does not say very much about a person's actual age. Just look at the fellow in the picture above and then bridge the gap to one of my earlier posts about the 1998 Olympics. That guy here did compete back then and he faced off and beat, amongst others, Candeloro at 1998 European Championships. Talk about longevity incarnate.
With an abundance of medals and titles to his name Evgeni Plushenko is, without any doubt, the Grandseigneur among currently active athletes, at the very least in the men's division and his competetive drive, mental strength and unbridled jumping prowess speak for themselves even to this day.
These days, after multiple surgery to his knees, back and who knows what else, he has to pick his competitions a little more carefully. Since his return to the eligible ranks, we saw him compete at his Nationals, the Europeans, and the Japan Open once each. The strategy has been to do what is necessary in terms of ranking points and season's bests while at the same time resting his body and getting in shape for the 2013/14 season. It has been suggested that his very reduced season might, in fact, be attributed to him avoiding real and challenging, (perhaps even dangerous) competition, i.e. facing off Patrick Chan at Cup of Russia etc.
However, besided playing reputation and impression games, there are more things to be considered. First of all, Plushenko did face a lot of top skaters at the Japan Open, while certainly being a little more cheesy-festy than regular ISU events, it is still a properly judged event with a lot of attention paid to it. Secondly, the competition at the Europeans Championshis can hardly be considered a walk in the park. Skaters like Amodio, Brezina, Fernandez, Gachinski, and Joubert, just to name a few, are certainly capable of challenging almost any skater in the world if they perform to the bestof their ability. Thirdly, considering that he is essentially working towards his goal of an Olympic medal in Sochi and undergoes constant medical treatment, it is more than understandable if he takes his time and pays attention to his body and does not exhaust himself over a full regular season.
Be all that as it may, neither Plushenko nor his coach Mishin have explicitly ruled out a participation at Worlds. Nonetheless, it does not seem likely to happen. Apart from Plushenko's strategy over the last few years and his injury problems, both being factors pointing against showing up at Worlds, there is also the very prosaic question: What is there to gain from attending Worlds, in Canada of all places?
Reputation-Bonus: It is highly doubtful that a skater of Plushenko's calibre and status could gain any more rep- points in the eyes of the judges. His PCS in the SPs and LPs yet to come will likely be tied to his performance level and technical excellence. Even finishing above some of his direct competition for the Olympic podium will not give him any substantial advantage going into the Olympic season. In fact, it might well be advisable to sit out Worlds and let the other top skaters ruffle their feathers a bit.
Due to his low World Ranking status in 2010, Plushenko was forced to skate very early in the short programme in Vancouver. It can be assumed that this might have hurt him points wise at least to some extent. Surely, he wants to avoid such a low starting number for the Sochi Olympics. In order to do that he needs to rack up points for the World Standings. At the moment Mr. Plushenko has 840 points to his credit. That puts him in 51st place of the ISU World Ranking. At decent finish on the podium at the 2013 Europeans should put him in the top 30. Even a respectable top 5 finish at Worlds finish will most likely not get him that much more ranking points than a podium finish or possible win at Europeans. If he collects decent points from next season's Cup of Russia and the Europeans he should, by the time of the Olympics, have arrived somewhere between 10th and 15th place in the World Standings. He could even improve upon that by doing B-Internationals. Worlds alone are thusly not a huge factor in gathering additional ranking points.
As host country for the Olympics Russia is guaranteed one spot in each discipline, anyway. It is pretty much taken for granted that this one spot would be bestowed upon Plushenko. While a good showing of, for example, Arthur Gachinski should secure 2 spots with reasonable certainty, the question remains: If there is only one spot, are there any circumstances that could possibly lead to this spot being awarded to someone other than Mr. Plushenko? Barring injury and completely disastrous performances, of the like we have never seen before from him, it is hardly imaginable. Others failing to secure a 2nd spot might in fact be one more reason to send him.
Looking at all these factors from Plushenko's point of view, the decision to skip Worlds and other events makes all the more sense. It is simply a question of what you want to achieve and how to make the most of your preparation time.
If Plushenko skips the World Championships to give his body some rest, I say let him rest, let him rest and, maybe, dream of lions.