SHEFFIELD, England – Defying all logic at the venerable age of 29, evergreen Russian Evgeni Plushenko produced a career-best performance to win a seventh men’s European figure skating title Saturday and add another layer to his legend.
Throwing in an unexpected quadruple jump to a compelling routine to “Tango de Roxanne” from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, the 2006 Olympic champion scored a personal-best 176.52 points in the free skate to total 261.23 — his highest ever overall mark.
“I’m called the king by many people and I try to live up to that name. I want to remain the king for a long time to come,” Plushenko said with a smile.
If Plushenko is the king, then Carolina Kostner is surely the queen of European skating.
On a day to remember for a relative veteran of the women’s competition, the 24-year-old Italian captured a fourth continental title in a six-year span by executing a flawless, if limited, free skate to build on her lead from Friday’s short program.
Topping both segments, the elegant Kostner finished on 183.55 points, more than 16 clear of second-place Kiira Korpi of Finland.
With 18-year-old Artur Gachinski coming second in the men’s competition, Russia finished the Europeans with seven medals from a possible 12 — two years before the country hosts the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
The spectators at Motorpoint Arena had already risen to their feet in acclaim when Plushenko — dressed in a glitter-lined black outfit — finished his breathtaking routine in a blaze of glory, repeatedly pumping his fists in the direction of the judges.
Even with Gachinski, who led Plushenko by 0.09 points after the short dance, and three other rivals to come, the greatest male skater of his generation knew the gold was again his — 12 years after winning his first continental title.
“I did a little bit of history in figure skating today,” an overjoyed Plushenko said.
Gachinski couldn’t match his mentor, idol and training partner.
The bronze medallist from last year’s worlds scored 161.47 points in his free skate to total 246.27, a personal best too.
Defending champion Florent Amodio of France rallied from fifth place to take the bronze with an overall score of 234.18, ahead of Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic (229.30).
Plushenko hopped onto the podium to collect the 18th medal of an illustrious career that he is set to stretch, amazingly, to Sochi. He started off in seniors in 1997.
“I felt like I did eight years ago out there,” said Plushenko, the only living male skater with three Olympic medals to his name.
His excuse for not doing a quad during his play-it-safe short program on Thursday was that it would take him three or four minutes for his body to recover.
Lo and behold, Plushenko opened the free skate with a quad toe loop — which earned the maestro 11.59 points — and set the tone for the rest of his joyous, near-flawless routine that had the crowd tranfixed.
The veteran skater denied he had played mind games with his rivals, insisting instead that his medical team had performed miracles.
“Today, the problems with my meniscus were overcome,” he said. “Today, I skated at full capacity.”
Plushenko will head to Germany to undergo surgery on his problematic left knee in two weeks. The operation will keep him out of the worlds at the end of March.
His intimidating score, which was nearly three points better than his previous best of 258.33 he achieved in winning Olympic gold in Turin, left him way clear of the field.
Gachinski, Javier Fernandez of Spain and Amodio were still to come but following Plushenko was virtually impossible.
Needing the skate of his young life, Gachinski opened up stylishly with a quad toe combination and another quad toe but was marked down on his latter jumps.
“I am still happy,” Gachinski said. “This is my second Europeans and I got a second.”
Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic was third after the short program but flopped in the free, slumping to fifth and allowing Amodio to climb onto the podium despite the Frenchman not managing a quad.
“It was a difficult experience but I’m proud,” Amodio said. “I started to feel like the real Florent Amodio.”