Analysis: Plushenko, a legend with an uneasy legacy

February 14, 2014

Evgeni Plushenko gestures during a warm-up of the men’s figure skating short program. (AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS)

The men’s short program brought everything we love about skating: beauty, drama, suspicion and a tidbit of unpredictability (although this skating fan came pretty close to calling the action).

The first bombshell came when Evgeni Plushenko apparently hurt his back while practicing the treacherous triple axel in his warm-up. Eyes red, Plushenko declared he was too beat up to continue. Then he retired from skating.

We’ve long speculated that skating two competitions inside of a week is bad for the health of skaters, especially for Plushenko, a 31-year-old, four-time Olympian with a bad back. On Thursday, the man I like to call The Bionic Man of Skating declared, “I AM NOT ROBOT.” It is sad for fans to see The Bionic, but Not Robot, Man of Figure Skating to leave in this fashion. There he was, brazen, outlandish Plushenko, whimpering and in pain.  It is sad that this is our last memory of Plushenko on competitive ice.

As much as I wish there was no team competition at all, I also wish Plushenko did not compete in the team competition. It would have been fun to give him once last competitive round with skaters who once looked up to him. He will forever be one of the great competitors and has given us remarkable rivalries over the past 13 years.

Still, it was time for Plushenko to go. Did he really need to be at these Games? And if he did, wouldn’t it have been fine to have him watch with his family while being revered as one of the world’s greatest athletes?

Skating wasn’t really much of his sport anymore. He was a part of the great quad-jumpers of the early 2000s, but people soon realized that jumpfests were ruining men’s figure skating.  I’m not sure he pushed the skating toward anything new and interesting, unlike skaters such as Kurt Browning and my new BFF, Dick Button. In fact, the new scoring system almost seemed to be designed to be a response to punish his style of skating: a series of difficult jumps at the beginning, then some campy vamping in the middle, and a finish with lots of pizazz.

Evan Lysacek beat him in the 2010 Olympics by showing a mastery of constructing  physically demanding, flowing programs. Even without the quad, Lysacek won because he was a better athlete. Canadians such as Jeffrey Buttle and Patrick Chan, as well as Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, added an artistic quality that had almost been erased during Plushenko’s era.  The great skaters now don’t stop and wink at judges, or wiggle their hips to make the crowd coo while catching their breath. And that’s good.

Plushenko’s retirement is sad, but there is no need to mourn the loss of the Great Russian Skater. Thank him for the past, but acknowledge that sport moved past him long ago.

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Robert Samuels is a national political reporter who focuses on the intersection of politics, policy and people. He previously covered social issues in the District of Columbia.
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Barry Svrluga · February 14, 2014

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