With Olympic gold and silver and world championships medals in his resume, Evgeni Plushenko has everything a figure skater could want. Yet he's coming back for more.
Plushenko begins his comeback at this week's Rostelecom Cup, the second event on the Grand Prix circuit. Down the road, he has his sights set on the Vancouver Olympics.
Plushenko's short program Friday will be his first appearance at an international competition since winning Olympic gold in 2006 at the Turin Games.
After Turin, there were no more major titles left for him to win, and he had issues with his knee. But when the next generation of Russian skaters proved underwhelming, Plushenko came out of retirement and began rigorous training, including dropping 20 pounds he'd packed on, according to coach Alexei Mishin.
At a Russian competition in Perm this month, Plushenko was characteristically clean and stylish. But he tripled his planned quadruple jump, and doubts remain about whether he's regained enough athleticism to mount a serious defense of his gold in Vancouver.
Some competitors at this event, formerly the Cup of Russia, will present challenges, although world silver medalist Patrick Chan of Canada pulled out because of a tear in a calf muscle. That leaves Grand Prix Finals silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka of Japan and American Johnny Weir, the Grand Prix Finals bronze winner and a three-time U.S. champion, as top contenders. But both struggle with quads.
Weir is trying to rebound from a weak season in which he failed to make the U.S. team for worlds.
If Russian men have been disappointing in recent years, the women have been almost invisible. Visitors are likely to take all the medals. Japan's Miki Ando, the world bronze medalist, and Mao Asada, who took gold at the Grand Prix Finals and, like Ando, is a former world champ, are strong contenders.
The United States is sending national champion Alissa Czisny and Ashley Wagner, one of America's top young skaters.
Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, who have landed the rare throw quad salchow, come up against Grand Prix Finals winners Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China in pairs. Americans Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, two-time defending national champions, also are in the lineup.
In ice dancing, Russia's world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin pulled out because of his recurring trouble with his knee. That leaves Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the 2009 national champs and winners at the recent Nebelhorn Trophy, as strong contenders, along with Canada's Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier.