ADLER, Russia -- At 31, Russian figure skating star Evgeni Plushenko still knows how to work a crowd.

The three-time Olympic medalist was at his showmanship best Thursday night in Iceberg Sports Palace to help jump-start the 2014 Winter Olympics ahead of the Opening Ceremony.

It was Russia's night as the new team event ended with the magnificent Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov skating a season best to win the pairs short program with 83.79 points.

Russia leads the three-day competition after Plushenko ended second behind top-ranked Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.

The United States technically is in seventh place but actually is in a three-way tie for fifth with Germany and France, all with 10 points. The top five countries and any ties advance to Sunday's long program finale.

Canada is second in the team rankings, followed by China, Japan and Germany. Ten countries qualified to compete in the Olympic debut of the team event based on international results in the past season.

While the Americans struggled, the Russians soared starting with the blond Plushenko.

A skater considered past his prime performed for the partisan, screaming audience to highlight the men's short program. Plushenko's spinning, twisting, hip-swaying program led to 91.39 points. Hanyu, 19, scored 97.98 points with Canada's Patrick Chan in third with 89.71 points.

Russian skating officials took a chance to bring Plushenko to Sochi for what amounts to a curtain call. But in the first of four programs, the 2002 Olympic champion rewarded them.


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The hometown audience starting chanting, "Russia, Russia" just before Britain's Matthew Parr took the ice to start the event.

But they really got into it once Plushenko entered the spotlight wearing a sparkly black outfit that looked as if Zoro won a sword fight -- a cut through the chest to reveal flesh-tone mesh.

The crowd erupted as Plushenko concluded the show with a seemingly endless spin rotation.

"I felt Sochi," he said afterward.

Plushenko also said he was "a little dizzy" from the warm reception.

It didn't look that way as the two-time silver medalist basked in the moment, taking a final bow just before departing.

U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott had to follow Plushenko and crashed on his try at a quadruple jump. He couldn't fully recover while landing in seventh with a score of 65.65 points.

American pairs Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir had two big mistakes skating to a medley of Santana music to further erode the Americans' chances.

The No. 15-ranked couple scored 64.25 points to place fifth in their portion.

The Americans will need to perform well Saturday in ice dancing and the women's short program to finish in the top five and advance to Sunday's long program finale.

"I'm torn apart I couldn't do this for my team," Abbott said.

But he already was looking forward to the individual event next week.

"I just needed to shake out the demons," Abbott added. "I had my Olympic disaster so now I can move on."

It could not have been a better start for the first Winter Olympics in Russia with Plushenko looking ageless.

The man who left Vancouver four years ago whining about losing the gold medal to American Evan Lysacek had not performed much since back surgery a year ago.

Plushenko started competing only in November to try to qualify for the Sochi Games. But another Russian -- rising star Maxim Kovtun -- won the Russian national title.

Yet, Russian skating officials elected to send Plushenko to Sochi after a private audition.

Plushenko didn't realize that he would be the only Russian male singles skater coming and would have to complete four programs within a week.

"I will try, of course," Plushenko said, when asked if he could do all of them. "I'm feeling good. I'm alive."

OPENING CEREMONY
Friday, 7:30 p.m. NBC (tape delayed)

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