Even in second, Yevgeny Plushenko steals team event show

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SOCHI, Russia – If Russia wanted an Olympic moment when it selected a 31-year-old Yevgeny Plushenko for the Sochi Games after he had barely skated the past two years, that’s exactly what it got Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

Skating to “Tango de Roxanne,” a slow but savvy Plushenko landed a quadruple toe-triple toe combination to start and then hit a triple Axel as well as a triple Lutz all before letting out a guttural cry at the crowd, which roared its approval.

“It was incredible, right?” Plushenko told after his skate. “It was great to skate in front of a home audience. I am so happy to skate today. It was a good program.”

It was a night that was about Plushenko, who until weeks ago wasn’t assured to compete at these Olympics because of just one allotted spots in men’s singles. The three-time Olympic medalist – including gold in 2006 – was second at the Russian National Championships in December to a teenager named Maksim Kovtun, but ultimately he was chosen for the team.

WATCH: Plushenko performs his short program

With the Winter Olympics on home ice for the first time ever, Plushenko played into the crowd in only a way that Yevgeny can. The showman, known for his self-indulgence, played to the crowd as he skated in a short program that didn’t have any errors, but lacked visible speed.

It was an exceptional moment in Olympic history: the statesman Plushenko skating in a newly-created team event, making its Olympic debut, while one of the biggest celebrities in the country was performing in what is undoubtedly his swan song, having seemingly quit the sport after both the 2006 and 2010 Games.

MORE: Mixed first day for Team USA in team event

In the press mixed zone after his 91.39 score – which ultimately left him in second behind Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu’s 97.98 – Plushenko was in high demand, stopping for just a single question with each reporter.

“In two days we have the free program,” Plushenko said, sweat dripping off his brow. “We will talk later.”

But the country is talking about him now. The crowd roared even when Plushenko landed a jump in his warm-up; the king of skating lived another day at the Sochi Games.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins Aspen World Cup slalom

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With a slalom win today in Aspen, Colo., Mikaela Shiffrin broke some of the barriers she had been chasing.

“I don’t know if the stars will ever align like that again,” Shiffrin said in a media conference after being told she won with the biggest margin of victory in the history of women’s slalom since 1968: 3.07 seconds. “I don’t think [my competitors] are going to let me get away with three seconds ever again.”

En route to her fourth consecutive slalom World Cup title – which would tie the record for the most with Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider from 1992-95 – she became the first female skier to win four World Cup slalom races in a row since Austria’s Marlies Schild did it in the 2011-12 season.

In addition, Shiffrin became the first female skier from the U.S. to win a slalom World Cup race in Aspen. And she’s now tied with France’s Perrine Pelen for sixth overall with total slalom World Cup victories.

“I was pissed after I made that ridiculous mistake yesterday,” Shiffrin said to media, referencing yesterday’s giant slalom crash. Both her and Lindsey Vonn crashed and did not finish in Aspen’s giant slalom. “I tried to use that anger today.”

Shiffrin called the mistake a “brainfart” and Vonn dismissed it because “giant slalom isn’t [her] strongest event.”

But, Shiffrin added that she already has her mind set on tomorrow, where she races slalom again, on NBC at 3 p.m. ET. The complete of the Olympic sports schedule is here.

“I just as quickly have to go back and settle in,” she said. “Tomorrow is a new race. I have to find a different motivation and try to take the same mentality and keep fighting.”

Slovakia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova was second behind Shiffrin, followed by Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter.

By finishing behind Shiffrin in Aspen, Zuzulova extends her slalom World Cup podium finish streak to four.

Hansdotter has the second-most second place World Cup slalom finishes at 13 total, including today’s race. Only Pernilla Wiberg, of Sweden, has more with a total of 14.

MORE: Shiffrin, Vonn discuss friendship and rivalry

Fencing great Valentina Vezzali fails to qualify for Rio 2016

Mario Monti, Valentina Vezzali
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TURIN, Italy (AP) – Six-time Olympic champion fencer Valentina Vezzali has failed to qualify for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Games.

The 41-year-old Vezzali was eliminated in the second round of the foil event at the Trofeo Inalpi meet Saturday, while Italian teammate Arianna Errigo reached the semifinals and gained the necessary points to qualify.

Vezzali won at least one gold at the last five Olympics in either individual or team foil. She has a total of nine Olympic medals and 25 at world championships.

Her second son was born in 2013, the year in which she also became a member of Italy’s parliament.

Vezzali told the Gazzetta dello Sport this week that “I had another son and it was really difficult to come back. … I don’t think I have anything else to prove.”

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