After warming up a triple axel jump before the men’s short program, Evgeni Plushenko stumbled on the landing and doubled over in pain. The Russian fans, for whom he is a sports hero, gasped and went silent. Plushenko, 31 tried another, and after only two rotations, skated over to the judges table. After a few quick words, he returned to the boards , raised his hands to acknowledge his fans, and left the ice. The team gold will be his only medal from Sochi.
Alexei Mishin, Plushenko’s coach, noticed that something was wrong during Plushenko’s free program in the inaugural team event four days ago, and knew that the spine injury that the skater has been battling—he has had 13 operations—had returned.
As the announcer informed the audience at the Iceberg Skating Palace that Plushenko had withdrawn from the competition due to injury, the crowd went silent again.
Most couldn’t figure out what was going on—was the withdrawal planned, as many in the skating community had expected? The pained looked on Plushenko’s face showed that it probably wasn’t—after his two impressive showings in the team event that helped Russia win its first gold of the Games, he likely felt confident his ailing back could hold up for just two more programs. It couldn’t, in the end. Plushenko told NBC that the pain had returned during yesterday’s practice. “I feel sorry for my fans, and feel sorry for everybody,” he said. “But I try. I try ’till the end. This is the end of my career and I try to make my best, to skate individual [event]. But it’s a problem. I am normal people like you, I’m not robot. Message to my fans — I tried my best, I tried to go ’till the end.”