Plushenko out of Olympic individual event
Russia's Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko at the end of his Men Free Skating program at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships in Tallinn on January 21, 2010
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 Wednesday's disappointing long programme.
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 programme 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.