'Invalid' Plushenko brings 'shame' to Russian Federation

Russia's Yevgeny Plushenko leaves the ice after a warm-up of the men's figure skating short program...

Russia's Yevgeny Plushenko leaves the ice after a warm-up of the men's figure skating short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - The sudden withdrawal of Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko at the Sochi Olympics has ignited a firestorm of controversy.

The matter now involves even politicians, who in the Russian State Duma debated Friday whether the four-time Olympic medallist should even have entered the Sochi Games in his home country.

Plushenko, who at 31 has a history of back problems, was put on the Russian team for the Sochi Olympics in place of the actual Russian national champion, 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun, after Plushenko skated a private performance for the selection committee.

He then wowed the crowds at the Iceberg Skating Palace last weekend by leading the Russian team to the gold medal in the team event. But given his history of serious injuries, many felt that he should have yielded his spot to Kovtun.

Plushenko pulled out of the men’s singles competition Thursday after skating on to the ice before his scheduled short program. He then went over to the referee, waved to crowd and left, telling reporters later that he had fallen during a quad toeloop jump in training and hurt his back.

“I am sorry for my fans and for everybody, but I tried until the end,” he said. “I almost cried. It’s hard, believe me. This is not how I wanted to end my career. I am very disappointed. But I tried to do my best.”

Plushenko said he will keep skating, but likely only in shows.

Still, his withdrawal both angered and shocked many Russians.

Russian opposition lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky even called Plushenko’s inclusion on to the team and his subsequent withdrawal “dishonourable,” adding; “Maxim Kovtun is shoved aside and this invalid has brought shame upon us.”

But Sergei Neverov, a member of the ruling United Russia party, said: “We all regret (what happened), but that is sport. We are all proud of him . . . (we have) only words of thanks for his contribution to the gold medal.”

Many of the skaters in the men’s singles competition expressed disappointment that Plushenko was forced out — the Russian is a hero to many of the current crop of male skaters — but a few, such as Toronto-based skater Javier Fernandez, feel Plushenko should have given his place to another person if he wasn’t 100% healthy.

“But Plushenko is Plushenko and he can decide what he can and can’t do,” said Fernandez.

“I’m sorry for the other Russian guys who couldn’t take his place,” added Czech skater Tomas Verner, referring to Kovtun and 2014 European silver medallist Sergei Voronov. “I think Plushenko is a great athlete, but it was more than expected that he wouldn’t be able to compete. He might have just out-skated himself in the team event. He won a gold medal there and I congratulate him for that and it is rightfully his. But it’s a shame he couldn’t say, ‘Guys, I’m tired, put someone else in the game instead of me.’”

Still, the vast majority of skaters were sad to see the flamboyant Plushenko withdraw.

“It’s not like playing hockey, like we’re a team sport,” said Toronto skater Patrick Chan. “Figure skating is such an individual event and we compete individual against individual. We hit the stage one by one. I am disappointed he wasn’t fit to compete. I wish him well for a quick recovery.”

-With files from Reuters

 


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