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April 28, 2011

Bet on Gachinski, young Russian figure skater, for 2014 Olympic gold

By Philip Hersh

I have seen the next Olympic men's figure skating champion.

Artur Gachinski.

Yes, one should know better than to get carried away by a single performance like the one that carried Gachinski to the bronze medal Thursday at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Yes, Gachinski was 39 points behind the otherworldly winning performance by Patrick Chan of Canada.  Chan's margin of victory over Japan's Takahiko Kozuka, 22.57, was the largest at worlds since code of points scoring was introduced in 2005, when Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel racked up what had been the highest margin, 16.77.

GachinskiAlexanderNemenovG For what it's worth, given that scores have been on steroids this season and given that he finally looked mortal by stepping out of a triple axel landing in the free skate, Chan's total score, 280.98, was more than 16 points higher than the world record set in 2008 by Daisuke Takahashi of Japan.

Beset by a boot problem that forced him to stop and restart after popping the quad that opened his free skate, 2010 world champion Takhashi wound up fifth. 

Now Chan has to bear up to being the overwhelming favorite at the 2014 Olympics for three years.  Good luck.  (And, just so it's a legal statement in Canada, bonne chance.)

Back to Gachinski.  Yes,  this worlds was in his birthplace, Moscow, so the judges clearly were inclined to give the hometown boy some love.

(And a boy he is, not even 18 until August.  This was his senior world debut.)

But the next Winter Olympics are in Sochi, Russia, and is there anyone reading this who thinks that won't have an impact on the judging?

What Gachinski did in Thursday's free skate, beginning with an imposing quadruple toe loop and including two triple axels, simply was too impressive to be dismissed as a possible one-off.

``My performance was almost perfect,'' Gachinski said.  ``This is a big result for me.''

And it might make three-time Olympic medalist Evgeny Plushenko -- 2006 gold, 2002 and 2010 silvers -- to rethink whether he really wants to be reinstated after losing his ineligibility by skating in an unsanctioned event.

Imagine what happens if Plushenko does return, since he and Gachinski have the same coach, Alexi Mishin.

After all, it had been Plushenko's rise that drove Alexei Yagudin from Mishin to the United States, where he went on to work with another Russian coach, Tatiana Tarasova, and win the 2002 Olympic title.

Big difference:  While Yagudin is older than Plushenko, he was only 19 when he left Mishin.  At 28, Plushenko is unlikely to uproot himself should he decide to return to competition.

Beginning when Alexei Urmamov became Russia's first Olympic men's champion in 1994 (1992 champ Viktor Petrenko is Ukrainian), its skaters have won four of the past five Olympic golds.

But it looked as if the Motherland had stopped giving birth to such talents.   At the previous five world championships, all of which Plushenko had skipped, the top Russian finishes were 14, 10, 7, 19 and 10.

And then Gachinski arrived.

He had me just by using Dmitri Shostakovich's music from ``The Bolt''  for the free skate.   Few would dare skate to the enigmatic, complicated compositions that made Shostakovich a monument of Russia's rich culture -- especially a skater of 17.  (Brian Orser used it when he was 26.)

Chan Even if the suite from this ballet is among the composer's most accessible works, it is an interpretive challenge.  While Gachinki's interpretation was unsurprisingly callow and his costume in the ridiculously over-the-top tradition of Mishin skaters, he pulled it off the performance with enough aplomb to become the first man to win a world medal in his senior debut since Evan Lysacek of the United States in 2005.

The mention of Lysacek, reigning Olympic champion and three-time world medalist, brings us to the U.S. situation.  The unsurprisingly low finishes of the three U.S. men in Moscow mean the grand pooh-bahs at U.S. Figure Skating may start begging Lysacek to end his hiatus from competition.

Richard Dornbush was the top U.S. man in 9th place, more than 19 points behind Gachinski.  That was the lowest finish in history for the top U.S. man at worlds.

Ross Miner took 11th, reigning U.S. champion Ryan Bradley, 13th.  Those results mean the U.S. will have just two spots at the 2012 worlds, ending a 10-year streak of earning the maximum three, for which the top two finishes need to add up to 13 or fewer.

Not since 1994 have the results of the top two U.S. men at worlds added up to as high as the 20 in this meet.

(Some will say the U.S. should have chosen a world team based on past performance rather simply than results at the U.S. Championships, which would have given spots to Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon.  That is nonsense.  It would diminish the importance of nationals.)

Bradley's performance was the most perplexing.  His high-energy personality usually translates to his skating, but Bradley was moving so slowly in the middle of his free skate he could have been arrested for loitering.  He had been equally flat in the short program.

``I felt a little sluggish all day,'' Bradley said.

And, yes, Dornbush and Miner were senior worlds rookies.

Just like Artur Gachinski.

Photos: above - Artur Gachinski with the Russian flag, gold medal and over-the-top costume; below - Patrick Chan exults over his winning scores.  (Alexander Nemenov / Getty Images)

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Comments

Artur is also doing quad salchows, loops and flips in practice so he's got a great chance of winning in Sochi if he can do 3 or more quads in one program

Frist of all, congrats to Patrick Chan for winning his first World title. He is the best male skater this season and well deserves winning the World. As for who might be the next Olympic champion, it's a bit too early to predict it because a lot could happen until then. Let's just hope that best and most consistent one would win it all.

Ahhhh Phil, Chan's margin of victory is actually "22.57" .....NOT "32.57". Shouldn't journalist be checking facts correctly??? 0_O

Yoda: apparently I need remedial math. It was 22.57. Thanks for noticing.


I think it is premature to predict what will happen in the next few years leading to Sochi. After last year's WC, some opined that Daisuke was unbeatable and was a mortal lock for gold in Sochi. Even with all his talent, he had a very erratic season and, things haven't turned out as planned .

Gashnicki had two good skates here and some "home team" inflation of scores to win the bronze. But will he be consistent over the long haul? Personally, I find his skating boring and one-dimensional. On the plus side, he is very easy on the eyes.

to become the first man to win a world medal in his senior debut since Evan Lysacek of the United States in 2005.
===
Plushenko won a world medal (bronze) in his senior debut, he was 15 y. o.!!!

Plushenko won that medal well before 2005 -- it was 1998

Sorry to hear that the U.S. men's team did so badly.
Hope there's still time to overcome whatever problems keeps them from moving up the rankings.

I agree that all bets for Sochi are off at this point. As we know, anything can and will happen at the Olympics!

I am sorry Ryan Bradley didn't hit his stride, he is an enjoyable skater to watch!

I'm glad to see new Russian talent coming up, because I love Russian skating.

I think Plushenko will know himself what to do about Souchi. I love his skating when he's his true self, which is almost always (but not at the long skate Vancouver), but he has had some injuries and he maybe doesn't want more Olympic pressure.

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Philip Hersh grew up in Boston but has lived in Evanston since 1977. He has worked at the Tribune since 1984 and has focused on international sports and the Olympics since 1987. In 2011, the German sports publication, SportIntern, named Hersh among the most influential people in world sports, the 11th time he has earned that annual recognition. He was graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in French and a specialization in early 19th Century French literature. Prior to joining the Tribune, Hersh worked for the Gloucester, Mass., Daily Times, the Baltimore Evening Sun, the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times.

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