Evgeni Plushenko began his comeback attempt with characteristic skill and boldness at the Rostelecom Cup, landing a clean quad-triple combination Friday.
But a few seconds later, Plushenko showed that he's still short of the discipline that made him the Olympic champion, losing focus and doubling a planned triple lutz.
"I got a little relaxed, I felt like I had done everything" after the opening jumps, Plushenko admitted.
The lapse hardly mattered. Plushenko won the short program, finishing well ahead of his challengers in his first international competition since winning the gold medal at the Turin Olympics.
Julia Sebestyen of Hungary prevailed in a tight women's field, where the top three finishers are separated by less than a point. In the pairs competition, former world champions Pang Qing and Tong Jian opened a solid lead over Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov and Americans Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker.
Plushenko finished with 82.25 points, almost seven ahead of Japan's Takahiko Kozuka going into Friday's free skate.
Kozuka didn't try a quad in his speedy, stylish and loud program to the feedback-drenched guitar music of Jimi Hendrix. But his landings were as precise as Plushenko's and the calculated audacity of his music choice underlined how the once-punky Plushenko has become, at 26, almost a sedate elder.
After finishing second at the Salt Lake City Games, Plushenko dominated figure skating for the next four years. He won two more world titles _ he has three total _ and claimed the top spot at every competition he entered in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
With no more titles left to win after taking the gold in Turin, Plushenko stepped away from skating. He decided last year to return.
"Somebody had asked me why I was coming back because I already had everything. I have money, I am famous ... maybe I keep wanting to think I am very young," Plushenko said.
American Johnny Weir was in third after struggling through his opening jumps, doubling the second half of a planned triple-triple combination and putting a hand down on his triple axel.
"I'm disappointed ... but I can overcome these barriers," said Weir, who skated in what was, for him, a conservative outfit: black, with a plunging neckline and hot pink stitching.
Compatriot Brandon Mroz was the only other entrant aiming for a quad, but he fell and the rest of his mambo-themed program frayed, leaving him in last place.
Sebestyen said her solid and elegant skate to "Libertango" was bolstered by a sort of home-crowd advantage _ even though she's not Russian.
"In Russia, a lot of people know me and they try to cheer for me and it helps me a lot," she said.
U.S. champion Alissa Czisny was in second after showing well-pointed spins and landing jumps solidly. World bronze medalist Miki Ando of Japan was in third after pulling off the only triple-triple combination of the night, though the landing of her second jump was awkward.
Former world champion Mao Asada is in sixth place after struggling with her athletically ambitious program. Mao planned to open with a triple axel-double toe loop combination, but she doubled her signature jump and then abandoned the toe loop.
Pang and Tong's program was distinguished by a soaring triple twist, but they were significantly out of synch on their opening triple toe loop and ended the day less than pleased.
"Unfortunately, it wasn't our best today," Pang said. "It wasn't too good and we had a mistake on the side-by-side jump."
The Russians and Americans were much happier. The two pairs are separated by less than three-tenths of a point heading into the free skate.
"A little slow, a little shaky, but overall a good way to start," Brubaker said.
Especially since it was their first competition with new coach John Nicks. McLaughlin and Brubaker, winners of the last two U.S. titles, made the switch after a disappointing showing at worlds in March.
Kavaguti fell on the opening triple toe loop, but Smirnov took it all in stride.
"We got to show our new choreography, our new music. A little bit didn't succeed," he said.
In ice dance, American champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White have commanding lead after winning both the compulsory and original dances. Davis and White have 100.08 points going into Saturday's free dance, almost 15 ahead of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy. Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Shefer of Russia are third.
The Rostelecom Cup, previously known as Cup of Russia, is the second of six events in the International Skating Union's Grand Prix series.