Updated: Saturday, 15 February 2014 18:55 | By Agence France-Presse

Plushenko 'offered to pull out' of Sochi Games

Russian figure skating icon Yevgeny Plushenko on Saturday revealed he had offered to pull out of the Olympics before his sensational withdrawal from the men's event but said his federation had been unable to find a replacement.

Plushenko 'offered to pull out' of Sochi Games

Russia's Yevgeny Plushenko takes part in a warm-up during the figure skating short program during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014 - by Yuri Kadobnov

In a combative interview with the Sovietsky Sport daily, Plushenko lashed out at critics who said he had let the country down by not pulling out of the individual competition after he had won gold for Russia in the team.

"I invite anyone who wants to tell me anything now to put themselves in my shoes and think: 'could I have done that?'" he said.

Plushenko, 31, said he had felt twinges in his back during the final free programme of the team competition and subsequently offered to give way in the individual to his young rival, Maxim Kovtun, 18.

But in an almost farcical turn of events, Kovtun intially had vanished and then turned out to be ill, Plushenko said.

"I told the federation that I could let myself be replaced because I have problems with my back. Then they started to look for Maxim Kovtun.

"They did not find him immediately and then it turned out that he was ill. And they told me 'you can carry on skating'. I tried to do everything for the country, for the sport, for the fans."

"So there was a path for the youngster but the young sportsman was ill at that moment. So I went to the end," said Plushenko who won Olympic individual gold in 2006.

Plushenko took to the ice for the warm-up in the short programme in the men's individual event but hurt his fragile back and pulled out of the competition, prompting many Russian spectators to leave.

The departure of one of skating's most recognisable figures was also not welcomed by foreign teams. US Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst raised the issue in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

Russian media and several ex-skaters had expressed bewilderment why Plushenko had not quit the Olympics with his honour -- and back -- intact after winning the team gold.

Other options might have included Russia's Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov who took silver and bronze at European championships last month.

But Plushenko said: "Maxim was not there. So those people who are now being so negative simply don't know the sporting life in all its nuances.

"I don't wish anyone my fate, especially with all the operations," he said.

After withdrawing from the competition, Plushenko immediately announced his retirement from all competitive skating.

"It seems that the Lord decided that 'Zhenya (the short version of Yevgeny) it is time for you to stop'," he said.

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