Yevgeny Plushenko, Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu vie for Olympic glory
Trio of stars face off in a tight battle for the men's gold
Double Olympic gold medallist Yevgeny Plushenko, three-time world champion Patrick Chan, and Japanese figure skating star Yuzuru Hanyu all have Winter Games history in their sights starting today.
Plushenko, 31, is looking to become the most medalled man in Olympic figure skating history while Canada's Chan, 23, and Hanyu, 19, could become the first men from their countries to win the men's title.
Chan came into the games as favourite, but has lost ground after struggling to third in the men's short programme in the team event in which Hanyu gave an outstanding display to lead Plushenko.
"It was good to get the jitters out," said Chan, who holds world record scores in the free skate and overall total, but was overtaken by Hanyu in the short programme this season.
Vancouver silver medallist Plushenko is back to claim the gold he felt he was cheated of in 2010 when American Evan Lysacek took the title without landing a difficult four-rotation quadruple jump. Lysacek has not competed since.
Plushenko has been boosted by his solid skates on the way to team gold and matching Gillis Grafstroem's record four medals between 1920 and 1932. Another medal would see him overtake the Swede.
The Russian already has gold in 2006 and silver in 2002 and 2010. The lure of another medal is appealing despite back pain.
"I love being first," he said. "This is my fourth Olympic Games, and I am so happy I can compete, whatever medal I get.
"I'm going to try two quads. I have a triple axel-triple flip combination in my pocket, which is a great combination and one which no one else in the world has done," he said.
Chan has dominated the sport since finishing fifth in Vancouver and has won the past three world titles.
But Hanyu beat Chan in the Grand Prix final and should also be a challenger along with fellow Japanese Daisuke Takahashi, the Olympic bronze medallist, Tatsuki Machida and Spaniard Javier Fernandez, the world bronze medallist.
"I envied Plushenko for a long time and admired him and to be able to fight and defeat Plushenko on the same night is unbelievable," said Hanyu.
But his strategy remains closely guarded. "It's a secret," he said of the plan hatched by coach Brian Orser.
Former Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, who beat Orser to gold at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, believes that the biggest obstacle facing Chan is himself.
"[Chan's] got the total package. The only thing that can deny him is him," said Hamilton, the last man to win an Olympic title after three world golds.
"It comes down to the moment. It comes down to how you feel at that specific time."
The competition has got tougher since Chan won his first world title in Moscow in 2011. "In Moscow, he was so far above the group. [Now] Yuzuru Hanyu is getting closer and closer."
Takahashi, 28, meanwhile has experience of the Sochi ice having won the 2012 Grand Prix final at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
"It's great, I can really feel the ice. I have had a lot of different experiences in the last year, but I still remember that moment when I won here," he said.
Spaniard Fernandez, who trains with Hanyu under the guidance of Orser in Toronto, also believes he has a shot at the podium.
And he feels his jumping skills could give him the edge.
"I'm good at jumping. I'm able to do many quads in competition and many big jumps. It's my strongest thing," said the 22-year-old Fernandez.
Kazakh Denis Ten came into the Olympic season with high hopes after winning world silver, but has seen his campaign undermined by a skin infection, back pain, an injured ankle and painful dental surgery.
"I'm still not 100 per cent, but I'm going to do my best here. I'm just trying to push through it and skate my best in Sochi."
The competition gets under way with today's individual short programme.