NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ Russia's Alexei Yagudin and American Tim Goebel will be in the spotlight Monday when the men's qualifying begins at the World Figure Skating Championships.
Yagudin will skate in Monday's early qualifying group at the M-Wave, venue of the speed skating event at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, while Goebel will be in the second group later Monday. Current world champion and Olympic silver medalist Evgeny Plushenko is out with a knee injury.
Japanese organizers were relieved Sunday to hear that Yagudin arrived. He is the only gold medalist from Salt Lake City competing here and contemplated not coming. He pulled out of the NHK Trophy last November in Japan due to injury.
``I've got a bit of jet lag but the ice is good and I'm ready to go,'' said Yagudin after Sunday's practice. He is coming off one of the most memorable Olympic programs ever at which he got four perfect 6.0s. No other man had ever earned more than one perfect mark at the Games.
``It's a bit tough to come here so close to the Olympics because that was so emotionally draining but I missed the NHK Trophy and felt that I should really be here for my Japanese fans,'' added Yagudin.
Olympic bronze medalist Goebel, who completed three quads in Salt Lake City, also went through a light skate earlier Sunday. Yagudin said Goebel and Japan's Takeshi Honda will be his main rivals here.
``Takeshi is so good artistically and Tim is strong as well but I try not to think about the other skaters too much,'' said Yagudin.
Men's qualifying counts for 20 percent of the final score, with the short program on Tuesday worth 30 and the final free program worth the remaining 50 percent.
Honda, who finished fourth in the men's program at Salt Lake City, will join Yagudin in the early qualifying group. Honda, who won the gold at the NHK Trophy, will be under pressure here to get a medal before the home crowd.
Later Monday, the pairs short program gets underway minus Olympic gold medalists Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia and Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
Both pairs have bypassed this event, citing the whirlwind of activities that followed the Salt Lake City judging scandal.
The Russians were initially awarded Olympic gold last month, despite an obvious mistake by Sikharulidze and a clean skate by the Canadians. Then a French judge on the panel admitted having been pressured into voting for the Russians.
The IOC quickly decided to award Sale and Pelletier a second pairs gold, touching off a controversy that has yet to be resolved.
In their absence, Olympic bronze medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China will be the favorites. Russians Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, this year's European champions, along with Americans Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, will contend for medals.
In pairs, short program counts for one third of the score, with the remaining free program worth two thirds on Wednesday.