Evgeni Plushenko wins Olympic gold

Men's figure skating will crown a champion and a new sport hits the Olympic scene on Day 6 of the 2006 Winter Games.

In addition to the expected Evgeni Plushenko gold medal at the Palavela on Thursday night, snowboardcross makes its Olympic debut at Bardonecchia with the men's competition. Other medal events include women's skeleton, women's cross country skiing, women's biathlon, men's and women's speedskating and the nordic combined team event.

Plushenko, the three-time world champion from Russia, is poised to capture his second Olympic medal -- this one gold. He won a silver medal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake, and on Tuesday put forth a strong short program that has him a whopping 10.66 points ahead of U.S. champion Johnny Weir.

It appears that only a couple of blatant missteps can keep Plushenko from becoming the fourth straight Russian -- and fifth straight man from a country from the former Soviet Union -- to win Olympic gold.

Weir, the three-time U.S. champion, has a slim lead over reigning world champ Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland. France's Brian Joubert is fourth -- less than two points out of medal contention, reports Sports Network.

According to Reuters, on Tuesday, the Russian favorite proved why. His dazzling performance to Puccini's Tosca earned him 90.66 points, the highest mark in the short program since the new scoring system was introduced following the 2002 Olympics pairs scandal, and gave him a cushion of more than 10 points going into Thursday's free skate.

That is the largest margin any man has taken into a free program at a major championship. Such is his lead, the Russian can even afford to make a mistake or two and still walk away with the gold medal around his neck.

"Plushenko's in a class of his own," 1980 men's champion Robin Cousins told Reuters TV.

"The arrogant teenager we weren't really liking has grown into a very confident arrogance. Just in the quality of what he does is streets ahead of what everybody else is doing."

O.Ch.