Joubert still nursing hopes of Olympic gold

GRENOBLE, France, Feb 9, 2006 (AFP) - French Olympic figure skating hopeful Brian Joubert has warned that he is ready to pounce on any slip-up by Russian star Yevgeny Plushenko as he bids for the gold at the Turin Winter Games starting Friday.

Despite the fact that the three-time world champion is unbeaten all season, European bronze medallist Joubert remains confident that he can upstage the Russian favourite.

"The pressure is on him," said Joubert, who is training in the French Alps before crossing the border into northern Italy on Saturday three days before he opens his title bid.

"I've beaten Plushenko before, he fears me a lot and I like that. If he has a perfect programme he can beat me, but if he feels the pressure I have a good chance. I'm the hunter and he's the hunted."

Joubert is just one of two skaters to have beaten Plushenko since he took silver at the Salt Lake City Olympics behind compatriot Alexei Yagudin, winning the 2004 European title at the expense of the Russian.

He is also two years younger than Plushenko, which Joubert believes is an advantage.

"The aim is a medal, but my goal is gold. I'm young and if I don't get gold this time I can in 2010. It's a luxury that Plushenko doesn't have," added the 21-year-old Frenchman.

Joubert, meanwhile, was sceptical of talk that world champion Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland had a knee injury.

"I don't know if he's really injured. When you think about it an injury takes the pressure off you. If he messes up his programme he has an excuse and if he wins he's a hero."

At Grenoble, Joubert is training with 2004 world champion Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, away from the pressure of the Palavela in Turin.

"I feel good here, I'm not under pressure, compared to four years ago were I was very tense. Physically and mentally I'm ready," said Joubert.

Three-times US men's champion Johnny Weir believes that the gold is 23-year-old Plushenko's to lose.

"I don't think anyone is vying for gold because it's his to lose," said Weir. "Plushenko should be first unless he makes a mistake and there are about six other seven of us who are competing for the other two medals."

Lambiel, meanwhile, will arrive in Turin Sunday as he undergoes physiotheraphy in Switzerland on his right knee after a fall last week.

The European silver-medallist completed jumps Wednesday without pain and will increase his programme over the coming days.

Copyright AFP


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