Evgeni Plushenko’s Olympics are over. His competitive career, too. The Russian star retired Thursday just after he withdrew from the men’s event at the Sochi Olympics for medical reasons.
The 31-year-old Plushenko is the only modern-era figure skater to win medals in four Olympics. He helped Russia win the team gold over the weekend.
“I think it’s God saying, `Evgeni, enough, enough with skating,”‘ said Plushenko, who originally was hurt in a training session Wednesday. “Age, it’s OK. But I have 12 surgeries. I’d like to be healthy.”
In warmups before the short program, he fell on a triple axel and said it felt “like a knife in my back.” He skated toward his coaches while bent over, then tried to loosen up by skating around the Iceberg rink some more.
He then attempted another axel and botched it, shook his head and consulted with coach Alexei Mishin. When Plushenko’s name was announced to the crowd seconds later — to loud applause — he skated to the event referee and withdrew.
Before the latest injury, Plushenko said he planned to go out in style.
“I said to myself, `Evgeni, you must skate. It’s two more days, short and long program,”‘ the 2006 Olympic gold medalist said.
He also won Olympic silver in 2002 and 2010.
Before leaving the ice, he held up both hands to the crowd as if to say he was sorry, and took a small bow.
He was Russia’s only man in the competition, so the host country will have no finisher in the event.
- Jessica Golloher, reporter covering the Olympics in Sochi.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.
And Russians are in shock after watching on TV and in the Sochi Arena as 31-year-old figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, the closest thing to Russian royalty now, skated out on to the ice only to withdraw not just from Olympic competition, but later from the sport entirely. The only modern-day skater to win four medals in four Olympics is retiring.
Reporter Jessica Golloher joins us from Sochi. Jess, we know you were watching on television. And looking at the pictures, the broadcasters, the newscasters looked stunned at what they were seeing. What was it like to watch this?
JESSICA GOLLOHER: It was unbelievable. I mean, we all knew that he had had back problems. He had had it for 20 years. He recently had surgery in 2013 and has literally four screws in his back. And yesterday he hurt his back basically on a triple axel, and you could see him clutching his back during a practice run. And he said that he couldn't really feel his leg after he had done the run. We thought he was going to take a couple of days off and rest it because obviously he's been having back problems for years.
And he skated onto the ice today. He did not look stable at all. It almost looked like his legs were wobbly. And just told the referee, you know, I'm sorry, I'm not skating. People could not believe it. I mean, he had said that he was going to retire after Sochi. He won a silver in Salt Lake. He won a silver in Vancouver. And he'd had all these problems with his back, 12 operations in total, either on his back or on ligaments in his legs. And he just said that's it. I'm sorry. It's over.
YOUNG: He said, I...
GOLLOHER: People couldn't believe it.
YOUNG: Yeah. He said, I think it's God saying, Evgeni, enough, enough with skating. And it's interesting because he wasn't even supposed to go to Sochi. He finished second at the Russian Nationals. He didn't appear headed for the Games. But he did a trial run-through in front of some federation officials and they put him on the roster. And then it paid off. He led the Russian team in the team skate to the gold. He finished second. He, you know, did fantastic. People were rooting for him to have a great performance here.
GOLLOHER: They absolutely were. And as you mentioned, he is royalty. I mean, Russians love the figure skating. It's incredible. And, you know, there is even a so-called like best of Plushenko. He gets out there and he dances, and he's just so effortless. And the Russians go crazy. And people just cannot believe that his time has come. I mean, people, you know, as I mentioned earlier, he said he was going to retire.
They thought that, you know, him winning the gold that he did a few days ago, that would be a perfect ending. And they thought also that he would do fantastic in this next skate, and then he could say, OK, that's enough. I've done my time. But to just drop out in the middle of it is unbelievable. And you also mentioned that he placed second in the nationals. It was a real surprise that he was sent to the Olympics because there was only one spot.
But Russian officials basically said that they thought that Maxim Kovtun, the 18-year-old, was inconsistent and they couldn't rely on him. And it was a huge blow to him because he had beaten Plushenko. And he really wanted to go. And Plushenko, honestly, was very much out of the limelight, only competing in one competition in November in Riga. So it was a surprise that he was sent. It was a surprise that he did well the other day. And it was certainly even more of a surprise that he just said enough.
YOUNG: Well - and it also leaves Russia with no men competing in the men's individual figure skating. It's really quite something. Reporter Jess Golloher, who's watched this all unfold at the Olympic Games in Sochi. Thanks so much for telling us about it.
GOLLOHER: It was my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.