MOSCOW, December 29 (R-Sport) – The dreams of 2006 Olympic figure skating champion Evgeny Plushenko to star at next year's Winter Games suffered a heavy blow this week after he lost the Russian national title to 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun.
In an otherwise less-than-eventful Christmas week, Marlies Schild and Aksel Lund Svindal won again in alpine skiing competitions, while Norwegian cross-country queen Marit Bjorgen triumphed in the World Cup stage in Oberhof.
After finishing second in the Russian nationals held in Sochi, 31-year-old Plushenko said he was ready to cede the country’s sole Olympic spot in the men’s event to the younger skater, but was eager to represent Russia in the newly-promoted team event.
However, Russian figure skating officials hurried to explain that the three-time Olympic medalist had made an error in an overly emotional outburst, as according to the rules only the skater entered for the individual can represent the country in the team event, unless injury or other unforeseen circumstances occur.
The final decision on the Olympic entrants will be made after the January’s European Championships, where Plushenko won’t feature due to fitness concerns.
On the women’s roster for the crucial pre-Olympic event, European silver medalist Adelina Sotnikova, who won her fourth national title, will be accompanied by Grand Prix Finals runner-up Julia Lipnitskaia and 2012 world silver medalist Alena Leonova.
Vancouver slalom silver medalist Marlies Schild of Austria made history at the World Cup in Lienz on Sunday, racing to her record 35th career win. It was her second victory in a row after last week’s triumph in Courchevel. She is second in the slalom standings and 15th overall.
Meanwhile, her younger compatriot Anna Fenninger won the giant slalom race, moving to the third place in the overall season standings.
In the sole men’s event, Vancouver Olympics three-time medalist Aksel Lund Svindal grabbed his fourth trophy of the season, winning the downhill race in Bormio, Italy.
Elsewhere, U.S. downhill star Lidsey Vonn, who had her knee injury flare up in Val d'Isere last week, may not race before the Sochi Olympics. US coach coach Alex Hoedlmoser said Sunday that a decision was yet to be made.
Three-time Olympic champion Bjorgen continued her strong start to the season, finishing first in the 3km prologue of the Tour de Ski on Saturday and fifth in Sunday’s sprint race won by Hanna Erikson. Bjorgen stretched her overall lead to 175 points over Justyn Kowalczyk of Poland.
In the men's 4.5km race, world bronze medalist Alex Harvey of Canada won the 4.5km race. Overall season leader Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway came third in Sunday's sprint.
In the Russian national championships held on the Olympic ice of the Adler Arena, reigning world 1,500m champion Denis Yuskov won three races, including his first big success in 5,000m event, while world 1,000m champion Olga Fatkulina grabbed two gold medals.
The results helped coaches settle on 14 athletes to represent Russia at the Games.
Men: Denis Yuskov, Dmitry Lobkov, Ivan Skobrev, Alexei Yesin, Artem Kuznetsov, Denis Koval
Women: Olga Fatkulina, Julia Skokova, Olga Graf, Ekaterina Shikhova, Ekaterina Lobysheva, Ekaterina Malysheva and Anna Chernova
More speedskaters may be added to the Olympic roster after the January’s world sprint championships in Nagano and European allround championships in Hamar, Norway.