Plushenko out of Olympic individual event

Plushenko out of Olympic individual event

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Plushenko out of Olympic individual event

A file picture taken on January 24, 2013, shows Russian figure skating great Yevgeny Plushenko. aFP Photo

Russian figure skating great Yevgeny Plushenko said on Dec. 25 that nagging injuries will keep him from contesting the individual competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games on home soil in Sochi.

The shock decision deprives Russians of the chance to cheer on one of the country’s biggest sports stars and cuts short a long-shot comeback from back injury for the flamboyant 31-year-old.

But it also leaves the door wide open for Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan of Canada to take the top prize at one of the Winter Games’ most high-profile events.

Plushenko said he will still take part in the newly-created team competition that will be contested in Sochi on a trial basis for the first time.

“I think that I will select the team event and cede my spot in the men’s competition to a young athlete,” the R-Sport news agency quoted Plushenko as saying on the sidelines of the Russian Championships in Sochi.

The graceful straw-haired skater took the gold medal at the 2006 Games in Turin but lost out by a razor-thin margin in Vancouver to his fierce US rival Evan Lysacek in 2010.

The 28-year-old American announced earlier this month that he too will have to miss Sochi because of a nagging hip injury.

Plushenko had been on the comeback trail after aggravating a spinal injury and undergoing back surgery in Germany and Israel in the past two years.

But he only placed second at this week’s Russian championships in Sochi after finishing behind 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun in the free programme.

Plushenko said that there was simply too little time left before the Games kick off on February 7 for him to feel comfortable on ice again after an absence of nearly a year.

“I cannot call my skate a success. I need more practice so that my legs don’t die on me,” Plushenko said in reference to the disappointing long program on Dec. 25.

He had led the competition after a short skate.

Plushenko added that he would also skip next month’s European Championships in Budapest in order to focus on a fitness program that could get him back into shape.

He also played down any disappointment at missing his sport’s most treasured competition and called his return to action an against-the-odds success.

“Very few people believed in my comeback,” the star said.

“This was only my second start (of the year). Everyone said that this would be impossible. And I proved that it was. But I could have skated better,” Plushenko admitted.

Figure Skating Federation chief Alexander Gorshkov said Plushenko’s participation at the European Championships “had been in doubt for some time”.

The Russian figure skating chief added that recent performances meant that Plushenko’s place in the team competition in Sochi was not entirely assured.

“The figure skater has every chance of making the Olympic team,” Gorshkov simply said.

Plushenko’s complete absence from Sochi would be hard for many home fans to imagine because of the star’s immense importance to Russian sports.

The charismatic skater has become a constant presence on Russian television and is one of the biggest promoters of the Sochi Games.

His Vancouver loss to Lysacek on what Russian fans saw as controversial judging saw President Vladimir Putin publicly tell the skater that his “silver (medal) is worth gold”.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced the team competition for Sochi as one of the six new events it is trying out on a test basis.

The event will be contested by 10 nations and feature a male and female singles skater as well as pairs and ice dance couples.