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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Back Pain Puts Strain on Plushenko Challenge

APReigning world champion Yevgeny Plushenko in action during qualifying free skating at the Figure Skating World Championships in Moscow on Monday.
Three-time world champion Yevgeny Plushenko had a strong performance Monday in men's qualifying at the Figure Skating World Championships.

A question mark hung over the Russian's entry in the qualifying, but he delivered a solid routine despite suffering from back pain.

As the first skater in the afternoon group he scored 151.90 points with his performance to music from "The Godfather," doing eight triples. He didn't attempt a quad.

"It was tough to skate," Plushenko said. "I still can't recover my breath because of a tightening in my back. It's difficult to breathe.

"I have not been skating for two weeks and am back in action for two weeks only -- so it's difficult to perform."

Plushenko was visibly tired afterward. At the end of his program, he bent over and slowly skated around before coming back to the center of the arena and acknowledging the applause.

"He was skating beyond his maximum because that long absence from practice he'd had because of his groin injury," said his coach, Alexei Mishin. "Now he has pains in his back. It was not clear even this morning if he would be able to skate today."

Plushenko's nagging injuries could threaten his chance of a world title in his native country.

There remains speculation he could pull out before Tuesday's short program, with 25 percent of the qualifying-round score applying to the final tally.

Plushenko has won three world championships, four Grand Prix Final crowns and six Russian titles. He won his fourth European title last month.

In the morning qualification, Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland completed two quads and six triples to beat last year's silver medalist, Brian Joubert of France. Lambiel had 152.00 points, while Joubert had 132.00.

"The new program is very powerful," the 19-year-old Lambiel said. "After the three jumps at the beginning, it keeps pushing me forward."

Joubert was the first skater of the morning and fell once.

"I don't like the qualification," Joubert said. "I was disappointed with my triple lutz."

Two-time American champion Johnny Weir also had to battle with injury, needing two injections in his left landing foot and had a sub-par performance with three scaled-down jumps, including a single flip.

Weir said he had tendinitis under his big toe.

He started well with a triple axel and had three more triples. Then things started to unravel and he was forced to cut back the three jumps.

Weir scored 128.78 points to finish third in his group, well behind Plushenko.