- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Evgeni Plushenko is planning a comeback to defend his Olympic figure skating title at the Vancouver Games.

The three-time world champion, who overwhelmed the field at the Turin Olympics and dominated skating from 2003-06, is back training with longtime coach Alexei Mishin, according to agent Ari Zakarian. Plushenko already has mastered two quadruple jumps, Zakarian said.

“Evgeni is really focused on the training, he took away all his major show appearances, and he is looking to the Vancouver Olympics,” Zakarian said Wednesday.

Plushenko has not competed since his sensational performances at Turin. This is not the first time he has considered a comeback, but his training now is more intense than at any time since 2006.

“He is training from six to seven hours a day,” Zakarian said. “He is taking out all options to make sure he is at his best for Vancouver.”

The 26-year-old Plushenko recently worked on choreography with American ice dancers Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, but has not settled on any choreographers.

“Evgeni will use everybody he can to be in the strongest position for the Olympics,” Zakarian said.

The last time he failed to win a competition was at the 2004 Grand Prix final, where he finished second.

The world championships are in Los Angeles next week, and Russia has no medal contenders among the men. Indeed, after dominating the last three Olympics, the Russians have struggled since Plushenko left. Ilia Kulik won the gold medal in Nagano, and Alexei Yagudin took it in Salt Lake City with Plushenko finishing second.

No Russian has won a medal at the worlds since Plushenko, and Russia’s a long shot to have three berths in the men’s field at Vancouver. Plushenko would need to go through a qualifying process to earn a spot on the Olympic team, but it would be hard to imagine an in-shape Plushenko denied by the Russian federation.

Plushenko, plagued by knee problems for much of his career, previously considered a return in 2007. He decided against it, but there were no Olympics on the horizon then. Now, he can just about see the five rings on the ice in Vancouver.

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AP National Writer Nancy Armour in Chicago contributed to this report.

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