VANCOUVER, British Columbia — When Evgeny Plushenko was a small boy, he watched Russian Viktor Petrenko win skating competitions on television. Mesmerized, he told his mother he wanted to be just like Petrenko — a world champion.

His dream came true this week, when Plushenko dominated the men's competition to win his first world title here at the 2001 World Figure Skating Championships. Three-time Russian national champion did what no other competitor had ever done: performed three clean programs, including two different long programs.

Plushenko on Thursday landed eight triple jumps and one quadruple jump, bringing to life a crowd stifled by the bevy of sloppy programs that preceded his. Included in his program was his signature quad-triple-double combination, the most difficult of the entire event.

"I'm so happy," he said. "I did everything clean. I am not yet conscious of winning. Maybe in a week or five days, I will realize I won this title. That I did it. I am world champion."

Alexei Yagudin came back from a foot injury and a dismal qualifying round to finish second. Though he stepped out of the landings on three jumps, the 20-year-old Russian packed enough difficulty and artistry into his "Gladiator" program to claim the silver medal.

"It was a really tough decision for me to continue to skate," Yagudin said. "But I decided I really like to compete, and I love competition. I decided to continue to fight. It doesn't matter how well I do. I worked all year to get here.

"I'm still really happy with what I did tonight," he said, "and I'm really happy with my place."

Ten years after five-time American champion Todd Eldredge won his world title, he again found himself on the medals podium, earning the bronze medal.

Eldredge drew the evening's unluckiest skating position, just after Plushenko rocked the GM Place with huge jumps and adrenaline galore. After hearing the Russian's marks, which ranged from 5.8 to 5.9, Eldredge elected to skate a conservative, clean program. His new routine, unveiled this week, included eight triple jumps. He elected to forgo trying the quadruple toe loop he had planned, knowing he could not surpass Plushenko for the lead.

"In the warm-up, I was a little shaky, a little nervous," Eldredge said. "Going into the quad, I thought, 'This is stupid. I'm not going to win. Do what I can do.'

"It's a lot more than I thought I'd achieve this year," he said of his medal.

Eldredge's third-place finish also put him in the record books — at 29, he became the oldest man to win a world medal since Roger Turner, also 29, won his silver medal in 1931.

Reigning U.S. champion Timothy Goebel finished fourth and, with Eldredge, earned back the third team spot lost at last year's worlds, when Goebel fell apart and finished 11th. His performance was an improvement over this year's Grand Prix Final debacle — Goebel placed fifth — but still wasn't as clean as Plushenko or Eldredge. He put his hand down on a quadruple toe loop and stepped out of a triple Axel.

"I was privileged to be in this class of skaters," he said. "It was a draining week, especially coming off the Grand Prix Final and having such a disastrous week there. The way I skated tonight puts me in good position for next year."

And what a year it should be. Each of the skaters vowed to come in with bigger, more difficult programs for the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Plushenko said he would include two quad jumps, to keep pace with Goebel. Goebel promised to continue to work on improving his artistry in addition to the jumps that have made him famous. Eldredge said he would do the quads in competition he was nailing in practice. And Yagudin recommitted to a more concerted work ethic, the sting of second place evident in his eyes.

"I know that it will be much harder next year to win," Yagudin said. "I have talked to my coach, and we need to change a lot — physical training, practices and preparations. All of this because I really want to win the Olympics."

The 2001 World Championships continues Friday with the ladies' short program and the ice dance finale.

WORLDS NOTEBOOK: In their first head-to-head meeting since the European Championships, Italian ice dancers Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio again defeated their French rivals, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, in the original dance.

Fusar-Poli and Margaglio emerged as the team to beat here, with their superior speed and classic ballroom dance style. They earned scores as high as 5.9 for presentation and won first-place marks from six of the nine judges.

Anissina and Peizerat unveiled a new program, new music and new costumes in an effort to close the gap between them and the Italians. But their program, which was strikingly similar in its look and feel to that of the Italians, didn't win the judges' votes.

Russians Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh rounded out the top three.

The American dancers struggled, though both presented pleasing original dances. National champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev finished ninth, while the up-and-coming silver medalists, Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, placed 17th.

The ice dance competition will conclude Friday with the free dance.


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