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Putin attacks Plushenko judging
By Gennady Fyodorov
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin climbed into the controversy surrounding Yevgeny Plushenko's surprise defeat in the Olympics figure skating by claiming on Friday that he should have been awarded gold.
Plushenko, hoping to become the first man in almost six decades to win back-to-back Games titles, lost to American Evan Lysacek by 1.31 points on Thursday.
It was an extremely controversial decision as Plushenko performed the highly demanding quad jump in which the skater spins four times in the air before landing while Lysacek did not. It is considered the toughest maneuver in figure skating.
"I would like to sincerely congratulate you on the wonderful Olympic performance -- your silver is worth gold," Putin said in a telegram addressed to the skater.
"You were able to overcome all the obstacles in your brave comeback and performed the most accomplished program on the Vancouver ice."
"All Russian figure skating fans admire your brilliance, true fighting spirit, courage and the will to win. Well done!"
Plushenko put a brave face in post-competition news conferences but later told Russian media he felt he had been robbed of a landmark second gold after his triumph in the 2006 Turin Olympics.
"You can't be considered a true men's champion without a quad," the 27-year-old told Russian state television RTR.
Lysacek did not attempt a quadruple jump in either Tuesday's short or Thursday's free programs, instead wowing the judges with artistry and exquisite footwork.
"For someone to stand on top of the podium with the gold medal around his neck by just doing triple jumps, to me it's not progress, it's a regress because we've done triples 10 or even 20 years ago," Plushenko said.
"Just doing nice transitions and being artistic is not enough because figure skating is a sport, not a show," he said.
"Of all the men who had competed tonight, only two -- myself and (Japan's) Takahiko Kozuka (who finished eighth) -- were able to land a clean quad.
"Later, when I saw Kozuka I shook his hand and congratulated him, saying 'Well done'. I also have a lot of respect for (Japan's bronze medalist) Daisuke Takahashi for trying to attempt a quad. That's a sign of a (future) champion."
Plushenko, who came out of a 3-1/2-year retirement last month, said he was a victim of poor judging.
"I did a great short program but didn't get the marks I deserved. When I asked why they told me I was skating early and they had to retain top marks for the last group," he said.
"Then, in the free program I was the last to skate, did everything clean and still didn't get the marks. I thought I had done enough to get the gold but the judges gave it to someone else."
Most Russian TV analysts and commentators said Plushenko was robbed of a deserved gold by the judges.
When Plushenko walked into the RTR studio in Vancouver, host Alexei Popov presented him with a symbolic medal.
"You already have one gold and one silver so here's a platinum medal for you," Popov told the skater. "You are the real champion."
Another commentator called the decision scandalous, in the same mold as judging controversies at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
"We'd seen this before. In 2002 Irina Slutskaya unfairly was placed second in the short program so that Sarah Hughes could get a better shot at winning the gold," Alexei Vasilyev said.
Russia's Slutskaya, a favorite for the women's title in Salt Lake City, finished second behind American Hughes.
Incensed by what they thought was poor and biased judging, the Russians filed a protest, arguing Slutskaya had skated as well as, if not better than, Hughes. It was rejected.
"So what if Slutskaya lost?" asked the commentator.
"Who now remembers Hughes? Similarly, in a few years' time nobody will remember Lysacek while Plushenko would go down in history as one of the greatest of all time."
(Editing by Alison Wildey in London/Jon Bramley in Vancouver)
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