In a heartbreaking ending to a legendary career, 31-year-old Evgeni Plushenko of Russia bowed out of the men’s figure skating competition this week.
Plushenko had already skated in the both the short and free programs for the team competition earlier in the Games. He was the only representative for the country in the men’s event, as Russia’s placement at the previous World Championships only qualified them to send one competitor.
He has now competed in four Olympic Games, earning a total of two gold and two silver medals (one medal in each Olympics). His long and impressive career has made him a role model for many skaters, including several of the young competitors he would have competed against in this event. Throughout his career, he has been plagued with injuries which have forced him to occasionally sit out competitions. He has required several surgeries to continue to compete, including two spinal operations.
Plushenko took the ice for the men’s short program warm-up to the cheers of his home crowd. He took a few practice jumps, and came down hard after attempting a triple axel (the most difficult of the three-rotation jumps) and grabbed his lower back as if in pain. He tried one again after a few moments, only to land sloppily without completing the rotation. He then went straight to the side of the rink to consult with his coach. Plushenko was slated to skate first out of his warm-up group, so took a couple of laps around the ice after it was clear of the other skaters. He hesitated for only a few moments before going to the judges’ panel to inform them that he would be withdrawing from the competition. He took one final bow for the crowd as the announcement of his withdrawal was made, and left the rink, obviously disappointed.
He announced later what many already knew: this would be the end of his career. He had not planned to compete any longer after this Olympics, and this injury sealed that decision for him. It was a disappointing way to end, but he did at least leave with the gold medal from the team competition.
His home country was obviously disappointed by this turn of events, not only because Plushenko was the favorite for the event, but because his absence left Russia without any competitor in this event. He is facing much criticism, and many fear that this is going to be the event that his career is remembered for.
Overall, though, it would be hard for any low point to overshadow the remarkable legacy of Evgeni Plushenko within the sport of figure skating. His career has been an inspiration to figure skaters in Russia and elsewhere, and young skaters in the future will no doubt continue to look to his example. He has overcome obstacles and injuries for the sport that he loves, and that is something that everyone, no matter what their passion, could learn from. His retirement only shows that all good things must come to an end.
Farewell Evgeni Plushenko, and thank you.