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Plushenko goes for rare double

By Pritha Sarkar

LONDON (Reuters) - Yevgeny Plushenko has always had a passion for driving high-speed cars but after getting bored with life in the fast lane he has returned to the rink in pursuit of the ultimate adrenaline rush -- to defend his crown at the Vancouver Olympics.

"But in all honesty, I got bored with all that," added Plushenko, who looked like he had never been away when he triumphed at last month's European Championships.

Now armed with a new wife 'who never stops nagging' him to skate, Plushenko is ready to show the pretenders to his throne, including fellow comeback kid and Olympic silver medalist Stephane Lambiel, former world champion Brian Joubert and Canadian favorite Patrick Chan, how to pull off show-stopping routines that leave fans and judges wide-eyed.

The return of Plushenko and Lambiel, who both perform high-scoring quadruple toeloops, could ruin his dream, however, as he has abandoned his gamble to include the risky jumps in his program.

"I don't really want to make any changes and risk putting the quad on the most important competition of my life," Chan told reporters in a conference call. "I can't think about what they're going to do. I want to attack and see how they react."

The 19-year-old Chan, along with women's skater Joannie Rochette and ice dance pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, give Canada a good chance of claiming a medal during the February 14-25 figure skating competition.

"A lot of people assume it's an advantage but I don't think it's an advantage at all," Sale told Reuters. "What it can be is more distracting because you're the hometown guy or girl.

"It's exciting because everyone is cheering for you but at the same time as an athlete you're thinking: 'If I was in another country I wouldn't feel the pressure'."

BOND ROUTINE

Coping with pressure is something world champion Kim Yuna appears to have mastered. Yuna fever has gripped South Korea, where the country's 50-million-strong population are backing her to win their first Winter Games gold outside speed skating.

The photogenic face which looks down from thousands of billboards advertising products from bread to necklaces is expected to turn into that of a smiling assassin when she tries to obliterate the opposition with her dramatic "Bond Girl" routine.

Along with world silver medalist Rochette, and three-times European winner Carolina Kostner, her main challenger should be Japan's Mao Asada. After a patchy start to the season, Asada pulled off two triple axels, a jump rarely attempted by women, to clear the field at the Four Continents last week.

In ice dancing, hoping to gatecrash Virtue's and Moir's party will be the last two world champion duos, France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder and Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

The Russians could run into controversy, though, when they execute an original dance which has offended Aboriginal elders.

Accused of cultural theft during the Europeans last month, the Russians said their performance was an "aboriginal dance" rather than specifically an "Australian Aboriginal dance."

Like Plushenko and Lambiel, three-times world pairs champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo have come out retirement.

The husband-and-wife team have been in stupendous form this season, winning all three grand prix events they entered, and will be making a fourth stab at winning an elusive Olympic gold.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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