Russia figure skater Plushenko changes mind, demands Sochi place

Russian figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko has done an about-turn over next month's Winter Olympics in Sochi, calling on Russian skate officials to choose him ahead of national champion Maxim Kovtun.

The 2006 Olympic gold medal winner was stunned at the Russian national championships last month when he lost out to the emerging 18-year-old Kovtun, blaming a sequence of nagging injuries for his poor form.

With just one place available to Russia in the men's programme at the Olympics, Plushenko said after the defeat that he would limit his participation at Sochi to the newly-installed team event, leaving his younger rival to fill the individual role.

For their part, Russia's figure skating federation chiefs said they would not make a final selection for their Sochi team until after the European championships, which will take place in Budapest from January 15-19.

Plushenko, however, appears to have changed his mind telling the ITAR-TASS news agency Friday that he had every right to be named as Russia's sole challenger in the individual event for what would be his fourth Olympic Games.

"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."

International Skating Union (ISU) regulations state clearly that each country's winner of the Olympic qualification tournament-- in this case the Russian national championships -- should represent the country at the Games.

But Russian federation chiefs insist they have the option of making their own selections for Sochi.

The head of the Russian figure skating federation, Alexander Gorshkov, has previously said he was ready to take responsibility for making the choice.

"In the last year Maxim (Kovtun) has made a serious leap forward in the quality of his skating," Gorshkov said recently. "He's a true sportsman and I hope he will continue his growth despite the lack of experience.

"Meanwhile, Plushenko is a true icon of men's figure skating and an extremely courageous athlete. And when he says that he's ready to compete I believe we can trust his words without doubt.

"We still have time to finalise our choice. And I believe we (the federation) will have enough wisdom to make the right choice."

Combination photo of Russian figure skaters Evgeny Plushenko (left) and Maxim Kovtun