The 31-year-old Plushenko, competing in his fourth Olympics, was seeking a fifth Olympic medal. He won gold at the 2006 Games and silver medals in 2002 and 2010, and last week he played a key role in Russia’s team gold.
But his campaign to embellish a sterling Olympic resume ended abruptly, shortly after the men’s competition had gotten under way.
Plushenko was scheduled to compete seventh among 30 skaters. He took the ice for warm-ups but was ailing visibly during the brief session. He bent over at the waist for an extended time, as if contemplating his course, then straightened and started massaging his lower back. Shortly before his name was called to compete, he skated to the edge of the rink to confer with three Russian coaches, then skated over to the judges’ table to inform them of his decision. After shaking hands, he turned to raise both hands in acknowledgement of the crowd as his withdrawal was announced.
As Russia’s lone male entry in the team figure skating competition at the Sochi Olympics, Plushenko was scheduled to compete more in an eight-day span than his rivals for the podium. Without a male compatriot to share the load, Plushenko was forced to perform both his short program and free skate twice in the sport’s new team event last week. To contend for an individual medal, he needed to perform both again, starting with Thursday’s short. From the start, it was an open question how his body would hold up following the 12th surgery of his career, on his back, just last February.