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Skating Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 04:42 GMT
Yagudin in pole position
Russia's Alexei Yagudin performs a faultless short programme to take the lead in the Olympics men's figure skating competition.
Yagudin will now be favourite to land gold
By BBC Sport Online's James Cowling

Alexei Yagudin of Russia performed a faultless short programme to take the lead in the Olympic men's figure skating competition.

The three times World Champion hit every element to perfection including the most difficult jump combination allowed in the short, a quadruple toeloop, triple toeloop.

Yagudin's other jumps included a triple axel and a triple lutz.

His circular and straightline footwork sequences brought a huge roar from the crowd.

The 22-year-old from St Petersburg garnered mostly 5.8s for required elements and five 5.8s and four 5.9s out of a perfect score of 6.0 for presentation.

Honda roars into second

He won first place marks from all nine judges.

Afterwards, Yagudin said he was very pleased, "I'm really happy with the job I've done. That's just the beginning. The landing of the first combination was a bit shaky but after that it was perfect."

Finishing a surprising second was Takeshi Honda of Japan.

Honda performed a very solid routine which included a quad toeloop, triple toeloop combination, a triple axel and a triple lutz.

American Timothy Goebel also skated flawlessly to take third.

Goebel, the only man to land three quad jumps in a free programme, made history by becoming the first man to land a quad salchow in Olympic competition.

He did the jump in combination with a triple toeloop.

Yagudin's rival, reigning World Champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, failed to rise to the challenge.

Miracle required

Plushenko not only tumbled out of his first jump, a quad toeloop, his dream of gold could very well be over.

Although the rest of his elements were superb, his mistake was very costly.

At this level of skating, skaters must perform a clean short if they want to have any chance of being on the top of the podium.

Unfortunately, Plushenko has been plagued with injuries for most of the season.

The 19-year old Russian missed the European Championships last month due to an ankle injury.

His coach, Alexei Michin, said his pupil is recovering from a recurring groin injury.

"He still has a problem in a place which is very important for him. For me, it's not that important anymore," said the coach.

In order for Plushenko to take the gold now, he will have to win the free programme on Thursday night, and Yagudin will have to be no better than third.

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