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October 25, 2009

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Pang, Tong reign at Cup of Russia

Evgeni Plushenko won gold at the Cup of Russia in Moscow yesterday after a soaring and sinuous free skate in his first international event since becoming Olympic champion at the 2006 Turin Games.

Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China won the pairs title.

Plushenko performed only one quad, something of a shortage by his old standards, but combined it with a triple toeloop to open his program with unquestionable brio.

The 26-year-old Russian chose tango music for his flirtatious and challenging stop-start moves in the step sequences, playing up the confidence he projects on the ice. But he wasn't inclined to let overconfidence undermine his discipline.

"I have to work on my spins, work on my steps," he said.

Takahiko Kozuka of Japan took silver. Artem Borodulin of Russia won bronze, his first Grand Prix medal, after American Johnny Weir's error-infested program dropped him from third to fourth place.

Kozuka, whose own quad was downgraded after he stepped out of it, was pleased with his program but felt Plushenko's dominance even before the Russian started skating.

"The moment he took the ice, I knew there was a real champion in front of me," said the 20-year Kozuka, whose free program to an electric guitar concerto showed impressive speed and tight-sit spins.

Borodulin was close behind Weir going into the free skate and admitted that the possibility of beating the American, who has numerous fans in Russia, was daunting.

"(In practice) I started to feel nervous ... but I got a bit of sleep and woke up completely calm," Borodulin said.

He opened with a solid triple axel-triple toe combo, then fell on a triple axel, but recovered his composure and included a triple-double-double cascade.

Weir was in trouble from the opening seconds, when his planned toeloop was replaced with a triple flip. He doubled two subsequent triple axels and ended disconsolately, taking many seconds to raise himself from his ending kneeling position. He was sixth in the free skate.

Brandon Mroz of the United States gave a mirror-image performance. His short program fell apart and he entered the free skate in last place. But his strong long program included a quad and was fourth best of the day.

Pang and Tong, who led after the short program, opened their free skate with a pair of double axels and went on to show off a high triple twist and a throw triple loop so long that she seemed to hang in the air. Tong said he saw some mistakes "but overall we are pleased."

Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov took silver despite making some obvious mistakes, such as landing her throws awkwardly, and the pair chose not to try the quad salchow that they've landed previously. But an exuberant legs-up lift and a dramatically low death spin made their waltzing program vivid and won them the silver.

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker of the United States held on for bronze despite a troubled program in which she fell twice, on a side-by-side combination and a throw.

The Cup of Russia is the second of six International Skating Union GP stages.


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