Updated: Sunday, 19 January 2014 04:07 | By Agence France-Presse

Plushenko close to fourth Olympics

Russian figure skating star Yevgeny Plushenko's bid to compete in a fourth Olympics moved closer on Saturday as national champion Maxim Kovtun failed to medal at the European championships in Budapest.

Plushenko close to fourth Olympics

Russia's Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko (1st Men) performs during the exhibition gala at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships on January 24, 2010 in Tallinn - by Janek Skarzynski

Kovtun, an 18-year-old who took the national title ahead of 31-year-old Plushenko in December and had been tipped to take their sole men's berth in Sochi, finished fifth overall.

Two veterans -- Sergei Voronov, 26, and 30-year-old Konstantin Menshov -- found themselves on the podium for the first time behind winner Javier Fernandez of Spain.

Plushenko is not competing in Europeans this week.

"After the third quad attempt I understood this wasn't going to happen," said Kovtun, insisting he was able to deal with the pressure.

"We work on it a lot in training and I know how to deal with it," he said.

"The Europeans has been a very high level -- everyone is skating their maximum. The energy was right in the short (programme) but here it wasn't."

Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic gold medal winner, was stunned at last month when he lost out to Kovtun, blaming a sequence of nagging injuries for his poor form.

Plushenko said after the defeat that he would limit his participation at Sochi to the newly-installed team event starting on February 6, leaving his younger rival to fill the individual role

However under International Skating Union (ISU) rules the same skater must compete in both the team and individual events. But if a skater is injured while competing in the team event he can be replaced for the individual event.

"As far as I know tomorrow (Sunday) there will be a test skate for Yevgeny Plushenko and then a decision will be made," said Voronov, who finished third at nationals.

"Obviously like everybody he wants to go to the Olympics. It would be a record, a fourth Olympic Games, for a person who has achieved everything. For me Plushenko is an icon in figure skating, but we all want to go there and there's only one spot."

Menchov, fourth at nationals and competing in just his second Europeans, moved up from 11th after the short programme.

"Yevgeny is a fighter. He will fight until the end. We had an early morning practice together at the nationals. I saw how he trains," he said. 

"If he gets to go to the Olympics he will give 200 percent. He will not give up without a fight but we have to wait and see.

Fernandez added: "It's going to be a surprise when they decide because there are good athletes from Russia. It's going to be exciting to see who goes."

Plushenko had blamed Kovtun for Russia's single Olympic place.

"I just want to remind those who question my right to compete at Sochi that last year Kovtun was fifth in the Russian nationals but nevertheless he performed both at the European and the world championships," Plushenko said.

"After he finished 17th at the world championships in London, Canada, Russia received only one place at the Olympics tournament.

"Kovtun performed well at last month's nationals but one needs to have solid experience of top international competitions to aspire to win Olympic medals."

Plushenko won gold in Turin 2006 and silver in Salt Lake City 2002 and Vancouver 2010.

He retired after the 2006 Olympics but returned to compete in Vancouver. After losing his eligibility to skate in ISU events because he skated in ice shows he was reinstated in 2011, and won his seventh European title in 2012.

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