Evgeni Plushenko withdrew from competition and announced his retirement from figure skating just seconds before the start of his short program on Thursday. In a surprising move, Plushenko, 31, removed himself from competition due to an injury suffered Wednesday during practice.
The news of the two-time gold medalist Plushenko’s withdrawal came only seconds prior to what would have been the start of his short program. The announcement to the crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace explained that the skater had hurt himself during the six-minute warm-up for his routine. Plushenko limped off of the ice while waving a farewell apology and giving the crowd a small bow.
Plushenko does not walk away from Sochi empty-handed. As part of the Russian figure skating team that won gold at the first ever team skating event, Evgeni Plushenko’s second place finish in the short program and first place finish in the free skate helped the Russian team win the event, and secured him a fourth medal.
Another Olympic medal was not to be. After news of his withdrawal was announced, he told reporters that during the warm-up, as he attempted the first triple Axel in his routine, he felt as though he had “a knife in [his] back” and stumbled on the landing. He then bent over and skated toward his coaches before skating the perimeter of the Iceberg arena. After falling hard while attempting a second triple Axel, he lost the feeling in his right leg. He consulted with his coach and during the loud applause of the Russian fans in response to his introduction, Plushenko skated to the referee and formally withdrew from the competition. The abrupt withdrawal and retirement of Evgeni Plushenko just seconds before his short program also ended his bid to become the first male figure skater to win five Olympic medals. He later said that he had experienced a level of pain so high that even pain medication could not take it away.
The Russian skater did not originally intend to compete at the Sochi Olympics. After finishing in second place at Russia’s national championship, he declared that he would let the younger skaters vie for the only men’s figure skating spot available for Russia while he would participate in the team event only. Only after learning that the only skater who would be eligible for the team event was Russia’s lone male figure skater, Plushenko began an extensive PR campaign to secure the one male competitor spot for himself.
Although three Russian male skaters had finished in the top five at the European Championships, and Plushenko had not competed, he arranged to skate secretly in front of Russian officials, who then decided that he was Russia’s best chance for a medal in male figure skating. The withdrawal of Plushenko leads to Russia having no male figure skater to compete for a medal in the event.
Evgeni Plushenko has endured twelve surgeries during his figure skating career of two decades, which ended today with the withdrawal and retirement just seconds before his short program. He later told Russian television station Channel One that his career as an amateur figure skater is over, and even though it didn’t end the way he wanted it to, he was happy to go out with the gold medal he helped his country win in the Sochi Olympics. Although long a polarizing figure in the world of figure skating, there is no denying that Evgeni Plushenko will be remembered as one of the greats.
By Jennifer Pfalz