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Plushenko leads, Chan 7th after short program

Evgeni Plushenko of Russia leads the men's figure-skating competition after scoring 90.85 in the short program Tuesday night at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Toronto's Patrick Chan is seventh.

Evgeni Plushenko of Russia leads the men's figure-skating competition after scoring 90.85 in the short program Tuesday night at the Vancouver Olympics.

Plushenko, the defending Olympic gold medallist, is trying to become the first skater to repeat as champion in 60 years.

Toronto's Patrick Chan, the Canadian champion, didn't have his best skate and sits in seventh place before Thursday's crucial long program. He scored 81.12 in the short program, well off his personal best of 88.90.

"I don't know what to say," Chan told CTV. "I prepared and felt better than ever. Don't know [why the skate wasn't clean], don't have an answer for it."

The top three competitors, who all skated clean programs, are separated by less than one point.

American Evan Lysacek is second with 90.30 points. Daisuke Takahashi of Japan is in the bronze-medal position, at 90.25.

The other Canadian in the field is Calgary's Vaughn Chipeur, in 24th place, with a score of 57.22.

Plushenko, performing a Spanish-themed program to the music of Concierto de Aranjuez, got off to a great start, setting the tone all of the contenders as the 10th skater to hit the ice for the short program. 

At the end of his skate, he pulled out an imaginary sword and kissed it.

Quad makes difference

He nailed his opening quad-toeloop/triple-toe combination and didn't make any errors that would leave the door open for his competitors.

Plushenko's quad may have been the difference on the night, as the 27-year-old was the only one of the top three to include the jump in his repertoire.

"Easy? That's competition and it is never going to be easy," Plushenko said. "If somebody says today, `I am not nervous' or `I skate easy' or `I am not tired,' I don't believe him."

Plushenko recently came out of retirement in search of more Olympic treasure, to go along with the gold medal he owns from 2006 and the bronze he won in 2002.

The tall and lanky Lysacek was equally spectacular, bringing the crowd to its feet after an energetic program with the best spins of the night.

The 2009 world champion cried with emotion as he waited for his marks, knowing he delivered when it counted — making up for the mistakes that cost him a medal at the 2006 Torino Games.

"That's kind of out of character for me. I couldn't help it," Lysacek said. "But I had a really good time."

While it's impossible to win the gold medal in the short program, losing it is another matter.

Many of the contenders, including Chan, didn't have the performance they needed to position themselves within striking distance of the top three.

Chan, 19, was a silver medallist at the 2009 world championships but has had a difficult season in the lead-up to his first Olympics, with a calf injury and a coaching change.

Skating to Tango de los Exilados, Chan stumbled on his opening triple Axel — he didn't fall, but he stepped out of the landing, losing valuable points. He also made a costly error at the end of the short program, continuing to skate after the music stopped.

The time violation resulted in a one-point deduction.

"This is the Olympics. You can't afford any mistakes and that's a perfect example," Chan said.

Chipeur also struggled with his opening triple Axel, stumbling and putting a hand down, and appeared tight throughout his skate. But the 25-year-old, who finished 12th at the 2009 world championships, was otherwise clean, and made the cut to compete in the free skate.

While Chan may not have had his best night, it wasn't nearly as bad as France's Brian Joubert. The 2007 world champion had a disastrous performance that left him in 18th position, scoring 68.00.

Joubert, one of five skaters with the quad, stepped out of the jump and missed the second part of the combination. That seemed to throw off his entire program.

Halloween theme?

The audience was subjected to a wide variety of costumes, with most skaters avoiding anything too colourful or flashy. But there were two outfits that stood out.

American Johnny Weir sported a one-piece suit with leather trim. It was mostly black, but had flashes of pink and see-through sections along the chest and back.

Kevin Van Der Perren of Belgium opted for a black-and-white skeleton pattern that made him look as if he was ready to go trick-or-treating instead of going for gold.

The free skate takes place Thursday night at the Pacific Coliseum, the venue for all figure-skating events at the Winter Games.

With files from The Associated Press