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To thunderous cheers, Plushenko sauntered around the rink after his program, seemingly looking each spectator in the eye, a conquering hero among his legion of devotees.
"I enjoyed tonight," he said. "I'm as happy as I can be."
But this surely is no runaway like Turin was. First Takahashi, then Lysacek made certain of that.
Takahashi's program was completely different than Plushenko's and Lysacek's, but no less compelling. It was high-octane from the second he stepped on the ice, so jam-packed there was barely time to breathe, let alone rest. His footwork and spins were innovative, proving there is room for creativity in the current judging system.
All that was missing, as he readily noted, was the quad.
"I think it's necessary for competing in something like the Olympics," Takahashi said. "For me and for my success, I think it's important to work on the quad and it's important for the future of the sport."
Lysacek said Tuesday he "most likely" won't do a quad in his free skate, either. He won worlds without one last year; of course, Plushenko wasn't there.
Coach Frank Carroll grabbed Lysacek around both arms to give him a last-second pep talk before he went on the ice. By the time Lysacek finished, the audience was standing, the American was pumping his fists and burying his head in his hands, even holding back tears.
And the three-man breakaway was complete.
"I had some pressure coming in as a reigning world champion and I felt it. I also had a monkey on my back thinking of my short program four years ago in Torino," said Lysacek, who was 10th in the short in 2006 after botching two jumps, but rallied to finish fourth. "To be able to go out and silence all of that really felt good."
Two-time world winner Lambiel is fifth, but he won the silver medal at last month's European championships from the same spot. Three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir is sixth, followed by Chan. Jeremy Abbott, winner of the last two American championships, struggled so badly he slipped to 15th.
While anything could happen in the free skate -- the ice is slippery, after all -- the spotlight will shine brightest on Takahashi, Lysacek and, of course, Plushenko.
"I am looking forward to the free skate because there will be more adrenaline and a bunch of the competitors and the spectators will enjoy it even more," Plushenko said. "I will enjoy it even more. It will be a great competition."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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