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June 28, 2017

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Russia skating star faces Sochi pressure

MOSCOW--He calls himself "the only one" but Russia's figure skating star Yevgeny Plushenko will go to the Sochi Olympics under immense pressure to justify his hugely controversial selection and to win gold.

Plushenko, a veteran in the sport at 31, has said that the Sochi tournament will be his last amateur competition but many remain skeptical over whether he can reproduce the form of his youth that brought him Olympic gold in 2006.

Plushenko says he wants to create an unbeatable record by winning skating medals at four successive Olympic Games.

"I want to set up an unattainable record," he said. "Maybe somebody will be able to skate at three Olympics in the future. But it's unlikely to make it four Games. It's just unreal.

"Why it's unreal for anybody else but real for me? Because I'm the only one. I can say it without false modesty," he said in a recent interview.

Plushenko won the title at 2006 Turin Games and earned two silver medals at 2002 Salt Lake City Games and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Many in Russia thought he had been unfairly deprived of gold in Vancouver.

Unexpected Defeat at Nationals

But the road to Sochi was a thorny path for Plushenko, who had to undergo serious spinal surgery last summer in a bid to overcome a chronic back injury which had prevented him from showing his top skating in recent years.

In December Plushenko, a 10-time Russian title winner, suffered an unexpected defeat to the 18-year-old rising talent Maxim Kovtun at the Russian nationals which also served as an Olympic qualifying tournament.

With just one place available to Russia in the men's program at the Olympics, Plushenko said after a defeat that he would limit his participation at Sochi to the newly installed team event, leaving his younger rival to fill the individual role.

But the three-time world and seven-time European champion changed his mind, saying that that he had every right to be named as Russia's sole challenger in the individual event for the Olympic Games.

"I just want to remind those who question my right to compete at Sochi that last year Kovtun was fifth in the Russian nationals but nevertheless he performed both at the European and the world championships," Plushenko said.

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