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Russia's Plushenko says will not skate in men's event in Sochi

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian figure skating superstar Yevgeny Plushenko said on Wednesday he will not compete for the gold medal in the men's competition at the Sochi Olympic Games after he came in second in the national championships.

Plushenko, 31, who prolonged his career in the hope of reclaiming the gold medal he won in 2006 in Turin on home soil in February, had been the favorite going into the national championship.

After taking the lead in the short program, he was beaten in the free skate contest by 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun - who likely earned himself Russia's sole slot in the men's event with a commanding performance.

"I'll choose the team event and give the individual competition to a young and promising athlete," Plushenko, who also won Olympic silver medals in 2002 and 2010, told Russian state television.

"I am glad that I landed the quad (jump), but there were a lot of mistakes today ... my legs gave way," said Plushenko, sweat beaded on his brow and still short of breath from his performance.

Plushenko, who has competed in just two other events this year, said he would not participate in the European championships in January in Budapest.

Scaling down Olympic dreams that pushed him to undergo back surgery last summer in an attempt to make a comeback, Plushenko said he would seek only to represent Russia in the team competition - a new Olympic sporting event debuting in Sochi.

"I am sensible ... It will be enough for me to compete in the team event," he said. "Unfortunately, I didn't do my job today."

The team event in Sochi will feature six skaters from each of the sport's disciplines whose points will be added up for an overall team score.

(Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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