Gachinski upstages Plushenko at Europeans

SHEFFIELD, England (AP) ? Evgeni Plushenko got upstaged by his own training partner.

Artur Gachinski snatched the lead from the 2006 Olympic champion at the European figure skating championships Thursday after Plushenko opted not to do a quadruple jump in the short program.

Gachinski completed a quad and finished with 84.80 points, a mere 0.09 points ahead of Plushenko. Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, the 2008 European champion, was third (81.14 points), just ahead of emerging star Javier Fernandez of Spain (80.11).

“I think this was my best ever skate. I did all the jumps, the spins and the footwork as I had planned,” said Gachinski, whose eye-catching shock of blond hair bears striking resemblance to Plushenko’s.

In the pairs competition, overnight leaders Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov’s sublime performance to the “Black Swan” soundtrack gave them the gold and their first major title.

Volosozhar and Trankov finished with 210.45 points to lead a Russian sweep. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov were second (193.79), followed by Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (171.81 points).

Russia has been looking for someone to replace Plushenko, a triple Olympic medalist and three-time world champion, and it might have found him in Gachinski.

After winning the bronze at last year’s world championships ? Russia’s first medal since Plushenko won the last of his three world titles in 2004 ? Gachinski is poised to claim his first major title.

The 18-year-old was the only one of the top men to do a clean quad, and he thrilled the crowd with a mixture of poise, exuberance and fancy footwork in an ebullient performance to “Saint Louis Blues.”

Hampered by injury, Plushenko said he couldn’t have done any more in his showy routine set to the emotional “Storm” by Yanni.

“I’m pleased with the performance considering the circumstances. A program without a quad was like a trip into the past,” the 29-year-old Plushenko said.

Plushenko has been highly critical of rivals who fail to attempt a quad, famously criticizing Evan Lysacek after the American beat him for the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

“If the Olympic champion doesn’t know how to jump a quad, I don’t know,” Plushenko said at the time. “Now it’s not men’s figure skating, now it’s dancing.”

Yet Plushenko was in no shape to practice what he preaches at Europeans.

“It was either doing a program without the quad or not competing, and I want to finish this competition,” Plushenko said.

That he is still in contention for yet another European gold is testament to his enduring class ? and the struggles of his challengers.

A master at thrilling audiences for the past decade, Plushenko hasn’t lost the art of playing the showman.

Enticing the judges by circling in front of them before his routine, he was all smiles as he gave a performance full of energy and expression. At one point, he aimed a kick in front of a TV camera at the end of the rink, with his mouth wide open.

His jumps were largely spot on, too, with a triple axel particularly impressing the judges. There was no quad toe loop, however, as Plushenko ? not wanting to aggravate his injuries ? decided to start off with a triple lutz instead.

“When I do the quad toe, I need three or four minutes to recover from the pain,” Plushenko said.

The bouquets rained down on the ice and many in the crowd rose to their feet as Plushenko lapped up the applause, despite scoring around six points fewer than his short-program total at the 2010 Olympics ? his last major tournament.

That gave his rivals a chance to keep pace. But, one by one, they faltered.

Defending champion Florent Amodio of France wobbled after a quad salchow and is fifth. Brian Joubert, the 2007 world champion, fell on a quad toe and is 10th, likely out of contention for the podium.

Fernandez tumbled after a triple axel and stumbled after a triple lutz. Michal Brezina, fourth at the 2011 worlds, under-rotated on a quad salchow.

“To be honest, I think my rivals gave me a big present today,” Plushenko said.

Gachinski was the only one to capitalize.

Not only did the teenager score 15.83 from his opening quad toe-triple toe combination, the bronze medalist from the 2011 worlds also received level-4 scores from judges for his spins.

“Today I am happy about Artur but especially happy about Evgeni ? after one or two years away, he is able to compete again, with just one leg,” said Alexei Mishin, who coaches both Gachinski and Plushenko.

Volosozhar and Trankov led by almost six points after the short program, and built on that advantage by top-scoring in the free skate. Their score of 137.65 points gave Bazarova and Larionov ? who skated last ? little chance of making up the deficit.

The three Russian teams took full advantage of the absence of world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

Savchenko and Szolkowy were heavy favorites to retain their European title, but were forced to pull out before Wednesday’s short program after she aggravated a thigh injury.