Evgeni Plushenko abruptly withdraws from competition

SOCHI, Russia -- Evgeni Plushenko's time at the Sochi Olympics came to an early end.

The 2006 Olympic champion withdrew from the men's event just before he was to skate Thursday night, citing medical reasons.

The Russian landed awkwardly on a triple axel in warm-ups and looked clearly uncomfortable. The first skater in the group, he came onto the ice slowly, his hands on his balky back. He waved to the home crowd and then skated to the referee.

After his withdrawal was announced, he waved again to the crowd and put his hands on his heart.

The 31-year-old has a long history of back trouble – he still has four screws in his back from a surgery in early 2013 – and he said he felt twinges of pain on his final two jumps during the team competition. Russia won the team gold, and many expected Plushenko would withdraw before the individual event. This is one of the deepest fields in recent memory, and he would not have been a contender.

But Plushenko said he wanted to skate, wanting to put on one last show for his adoring fans.

Instead, he took one last curtain call.

Plushenko was greeted by tooting horns, waving flags and cheers of "Zhen-ya! Zhen-ya!" when he came out for warm-ups, and again when he took the ice for his program. But when he came out to skate, it was clear he was in pain and there would be no encore of his emotional performances in the team competition.

The Iceberg Palace went silent as a somber Plushenko skated to the boards to talk to the referee. And though he tried to smile as acknowledged the crowd, his legs appeared to almost buckle beneath him when he left the ice and coach Alexei Mishin had to grab him to support him.

Plushenko leaves with four medals in four Olympics, tying him with Sweden's Gillis Grafstrom as the most decorated Olympic figure skaters.

Though Plushenko has a huge following, his withdrawal is sure to raise some eyebrows. Russia had only one men's spot in Sochi, and Plushenko finished second to Maxim Kovtun at the national championships. But Russian officials opted to send Plushenko over the teenager, who has been inconsistent at major events.

Plushenko could have withdrawn after the team competition and been replaced by Kovtun or another skater, but he opted not to.


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