Champion Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko has announced his retirement after suffering a back injury. It meant his decorated career ended with a whimper, rather than the sense of style he desired.
Plushenko, 31, withdrew from the men's short program on Thursday after aggravating the injury in his warm up. Having hurt his toe in training the day previous, Plushenko fell attempting to complete a triple axel, saying after it felt "like a knife" in his back. His attempts to shake it off proved futile. When his name was called soon after, he skated to the event referee and withdrew. A rapturous reception from the audience quickly turned to muted applause.
"I am sorry for my fans and for everybody, but I tried till the end. I almost cried. It's hard, believe me. I am very disappointed. But I tried to do my best," Plushenko said after.
"I think it's God saying, 'Evgeni, enough, enough with skating.' Age, it's OK. But I have 12 surgeries. I'd like to be healthy."
Plushenko won medals at four different Olympic Games, beginning with a silver medal in the singles event in Salt Lake in 2002. He claimed gold in that event in Turin in 2006, before another silver medal in Vancouver four years ago.
Paired with 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia, Plushenko won the teams gold for his country on Sunday. His selection for the singles event had been controversial, with some questioning his limited preparation for the Games due to back surgery in 2013.
He and his coach decided not to withdraw after the toe injury in training on Wednesday. Had they done so, Russia could have replaced the veteran with 18-year-old national champion Maxim Kovtun. By the time Plushenko withdrew on Thursday, the deadline for calling in a replacement had passed.
End not on his terms
It was an underwhelming end to a glittering career. A darling in the eyes of millions of Russians, Plushenko had spoken prior to the Games opening of his desire to go out on the right note: "I feel that I am not finished yet. I love figure skating, the atmosphere, competing in front of an audience and the judges," he said.
That was not to be, however.
Plushenko has had two breaks from competition during his career, but this decision seems definite. He has mooted a move to show performance skating, but said getting his back right was the first priority. "Amateur sport is finished for me. Maybe not in the way that I wanted. But I leave with a gold medal, that is also great," the 31-year-old told Russia's Channel One. "This is not how I wanted to end my career."
ph/hc (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)