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June 23, 2017

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Yuzuru Hanyu gives Japan lead in new Olympic team figure skating

SOCHI, Russia -- Evgeni Plushenko stole the show, then Yuzuru Hanyu stole the lead in the new team event at the Sochi Olympics.

Three-time medalist Plushenko, in what certainly is the swan song to a brilliant career, put on his best performance in years Thursday night. For nearly three minutes, he had the crowd enraptured. For almost an hour he had Russia atop the standings.

But Hanyu, the Grand Prix champion and among the favorites for the individual gold medal, was even better — by 6 1/2 points. The 19-year-old Japanese was smoother and more intricate with his footwork, his jumps were massive — he nearly crossed the width of the ice on his triple axel — and his spins were exquisite.

When he finished, Hanyu bowed to his teammates who were celebrating in the cheering section set aside for them behind the end boards. While awaiting the marks, his teammates joined him in the kiss-and-cry area, dancing behind Hanyu before the 97.98 points hit the scoreboard.

That earned Japan 10 points to nine for Russia and eight for Canada as three-time world champion Patrick Chan struggled. The United States was seventh after a poor showing by Jeremy Abbott.

"He was my hero," Hanyu said of Plushenko. "That's why I was happy to skate here with him."

His coach, Brian Orser, helped Yuna Kim win the 2010 Olympic gold, but was perplexed about how to approach the team competition.

"It's so strange for all of us, for the athletes, for the coaches," said Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist. "You want your athlete to nail it. You can't tell them to hold back."

Later Thursday night was the pairs short program in the team competition.

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