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Plushenko barely leads Lysacek after short program

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Game on, guys.

Reigning Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko posted a monster 90.85 points early in the men's short program last night, daring the competition to beat it. World champion Evan Lysacek and Japan's Daisuke Takahashi came pretty darn close, setting up the most riveting men's final since the "Battle of the Brians" in 1988 - the last time the Olympics were in Canada.

Lysacek is just .55 points behind Plushenko, with Takahashi another .05 back going into Thursday night's free skate. Those margins are so small, the three may as well be tied.

Lysacek was pumping his fists before he even began his final spin. When his music finished, he threw back his head and then dropped to his knees, sliding across the ice as he buried his head in his hands. He got up pumping his fists, looking a bit dazed by what he had done as he saluted the crowd.

This men's competition has been widely anticipated, with a field stocked with enough talent to carry two Olympics. There are four world champions, including Plushenko, who came out of retirement to try to become the first man to win back-to-back gold medals since Dick Button in 1952.

Plushenko set the tone with a majestic program almost worthy of beating his world record from last month's European championships.

While Turin runner-up Stephane Lambiel and former world champ Brian Joubert weren't up to the challenge, falling apart, Lysacek and Takahashi made it clear they're not about to hand over that second gold to Plushenko.

"Easy? That's competition and it is never going to be easy," Plushenko said. "If somebody says today, 'I am not nervous' or 'I skate easy,' or 'I am not tired,' I don't believe him."

New York Sports