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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kwan Outclassed by Slutskaya

Irina Slutskaya glided through the women's qualifying free skate at the world championships Wednesday, outclassing Michelle Kwan, who branded her own performance "terrible."

The Russian's highly-technical routine to "Wonderland" and "Whisper from the Mirror" earned 29.77 points, putting her in front, and drew the biggest cheers from the hometown crowd.

"I hope I will skate even better in the short program, but at the moment I am happy that I had such a good start," said Slutskaya. "I had to adapt to the crowd. They were cheering for me and it was a bit distracting."

Qualifying Group A also featured defending champion Shizuka Arakawa, who despite plenty of noisy Japanese support was not too pleased with her fourth-place finish in the group.

Kwan, the five-time world champion, was even more disappointed after only managing fifth in the group.

"I don't remember what I did out there. I was terrible," she said. "I didn't feel my legs underneath me. It just wasn't my day."

The women will compete in the short program on Friday and the decisive free skating program on Saturday.

Qualifying Group A produced much higher results than the earlier Group B, which was won by last year's silver medallist Sasha Cohen with 28.41 points for a delightful routine to Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker."

"It was not too bad for so early in the morning," she said.

The home crowd at Moscow's Luzhniki Sports Palace has been delighted at the Russian dominance of the championships so far. On Wednesday afternoon Russians led in three out of the four events and had a good chance of repeating the clean sweep they achieved at the European championships in Turin in January.

On Tuesday night as the men's short program progressed at the Luzhniki Sports Palace, the rink's cameraman occasionally flashed a shot on the scoreboard of Yevgeny Plushenko sitting on a bench backstage. Plushenko would smile and dutifully wave. Whether or not he would skate through an injury had become the central drama of the evening.

The crowd erupted when Plushenko, the Russian star, skated out for warm-ups. And it shrieked when he fell attempting a quadruple jump during his program.

Before the competition, he set his country's figure-skating fans on edge by saying, "I have problems everywhere with my health," then describing knee, back and groin ailments that kept him from training until two weeks ago.

Plushenko, the favorite to win in his home country, ended the evening in third place, behind Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, who skated flawlessly, and Brian Joubert of France. The men complete their competition Thursday with the long program.

Afterward Plushenko said he had received an injection of painkiller to help him through his recent groin injury. "I feel a little bit better after this injection," he said. "I have very bad condition right now because I skate just two weeks."

(Reuters, NYT)

Plushenko did not provide the only soap opera storyline involving injuries. The men's competition was either an all-around medical disaster or the men were trying to upstage the women in off-ice melodrama.

Takeski Honda of Japan fell during the qualifying round Monday and lay on the ice without moving until he was carried off and taken to a hospital. It turned out he sprained an ankle. He withdrew from the competition.

Johnny Weir, the United States champion, told of waking up with an aggravated foot injury, needing two shots of lidocaine before he could even put on a skate for qualifying. He punctuated the tale by displaying a swollen foot.

When he skated Tuesday night, he fell on a triple axel, putting him in ninth place in the short program but seventh over all heading into Thursday. He said he had no doubt he would compete here.

"I can take a lot," Weir said. "So when I complain about something, it really is something critical that needs injections. I know that I can skate, regardless of how my body feels."

Evan Lysacek, who has no current issues, health or otherwise, had the best skate of the United States men, finishing fourth in the short program - just ahead of Plushenko - and sitting in fifth place over all. Lysacek, a relatively unknown 19-year-old, did have a major injury as recently as last summer, when a stress fracture in his hip threatened his season. He still receives treatment for it.

But he skated cleanly and enthusiastically Tuesday, without attempting a quad, and was so thrilled when he finished that he leapt and shook his fists.

"I was having a really great time in practice today and tonight," Lysacek said. "It was so obvious there was energy in the building. I had fun. I worked really, really hard this season. I've worked my butt off. I guess good things come from working hard."

In all, the woes underscore the physical toll the current level of competition takes on male skaters. To win a world or Olympic title, a quad jump is a necessity. Hitting it in competition requires hours of practice before the skater becomes confident in the jump. That means plenty of wear and tear.

Many skaters now spend what used to be their off-seasons participating in skating shows to supplement their income. The result is a group of top competitors with enough injuries to fill a chapter of a medical textbook.

(Reuters, NYT>