SHEFFIELD, England — Evgeni Plushenko got upstaged by his own training partner.
Artur Gachinski snatched the lead from the 2006 Olympic champion at the European figure skating championships Thursday after Plushenko opted not to do a quadruple jump in the short program.
Gachinski completed a quad and he finished with 84.80 points, a mere 0.09 points ahead of Plushenko. Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, the 2008 European champion, was third (81.14 points), just ahead of emerging star Javier Fernandez of Spain (80.11).
"I'm pleased with the performance considering the circumstances. A program without a quad was like a trip into the past," said Plushenko, who returned to competition last month for the first time since 2010.
The three-time world champion has a long history of knee and back injuries, and he decided to start his program with a triple lutz rather than the quad so as not to aggravate them.
"When I do the quad toe, I need three or four minutes to recover from the pain," Plushenko said. "Therefore we decided not to do the quad today. It was either doing a program without the quad or not competing, and I want to finish this competition."
Still, it speaks volumes that Plushenko is in contention for his seventh European title without even trying that hardest of jumps in his showy routine, set to the emotional "Storm" by Yanni. A master at thrilling audiences, Plushenko hasn't lost the art of playing the showman.
Enticing the judges by circling in front of them before his routine, the triple world champion was all smiles as he gave a performance full of energy and expression. At one point, he aimed a kick in front of a TV camera at the end of the rink, with his mouth wide open.
His jumps were largely spot on, too, with a triple axel particularly impressing the judges.
The bouquets rained down on the ice and many in the crowd rose to their feet as the 29-year-old Russian lapped up the applause. But not doing the quad left an opening for his rivals, and Gachinski took advantage.
At 18, Gachinski is 11 years younger than Plushenko. He has drawn comparisons to Plushenko because of his eye-catching shock of blonde hair and also training with Alexei Mishin, Plushenko's longtime coach. He showed Thursday he is a worthy successor to Plushenko. He was the only skater among the top men to do a clean quad, which is a must-have jump for male competitors these days.
Not only did the teenager score 15.83 from his dazzling opening quad toe-triple toe combination, the bronze medalist at last year's world championships received the highest levels for his spins.
Defending champion Florent Amodio of France, who is fourth with 78.48 points, wobbled after a quad salchow. Compatriot Brian Joubert, the 2007 world champion, fell on a quad toe loop and other errors left him 10th, likely out of contention for the podium.
The pairs free skate is later Thursday. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov led a Russian sweep of the short program.