Updated: Friday, 14 February 2014 05:43 | By Agence France-Presse

Sad end for 'the only one' Plushenko

He calls himself "the only one" but Russia's figure skating star Yevgeny Plushenko's career ended Thursday after a back injury forced him to withdraw from the Olympics.

Sad end for 'the only one' Plushenko

Russia's Yevgeny Plushenko gestures during a warm-up of the Men's Figure Skating Short Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014 - by Adrian Dennis

Plushenko, a veteran in the sport at 31, had said that the Sochi tournament would be his last amateur competition but many remained sceptical over whether he could reproduce the form of his youth that brought him Olympic gold in 2006.

He came to the Olympics under immense pressure to justify his hugely controversial selection and to win gold.

And he delivered just that to national euphoria as he inspired Russia to gold in the inaugural team event on Sunday to give the Olympic hosts their first gold of these Games.

The veteran, married and with two sons, may have lacked the speed and dazzling spins of his heyday, but he nevertheless still managed to captivate the audience. 

"Many skaters are good but Yevgeny has charisma," said his coach of 20 years Alexei Mishin.

"He radiates power, he radiates a sense of duty. The majority loves him, the minority are jealous."

Plushenko said he wanted to create an unbeatable record by winning skating medals at four successive Olympic Games.

In Sochi, he joined Gillis Grafstroem as the only skater to win four figure skating medals, although three of the Swede's were in gold between 1920 and 1932.

- Serious spinal surgery -

And he could have overtaken that mark in the men's event had not his back injury returned to conspire against him.

The road to Sochi was a thorny path for Plushenko, who had to undergo serious spinal surgery last summer in a bid to overcome his chronic back trouble.

In December Plushenko, a 10-time Russian title winner, suffered an unexpected defeat to the 18-year-old rising talent Maxim Kovtun at the Russian nationals which also served as an Olympic qualifying tournament.

With just one place available to Russia in the men's programme at the Olympics, Plushenko said that he would limit his participation at Sochi to the newly-installed team event, leaving his younger rival to fill the individual role.

But the three-time world and seven-time European champion changed his mind, saying that that he had every right to be named as Russia's sole challenger in the individual event for the Olympic Games.

"I just want to remind those who question my right to compete at Sochi that last year Kovtun was fifth in the Russian nationals but nevertheless he performed both at the European and the world championships," Plushenko said.

"One needs to have solid experience of top international competitions to aspire to win Olympic medals," he declared in a typical show of brash self confidence.

- Peak of his career -

The door was opened for Plushenko to compete after national champion Kovtun slumped to fifth at the January's European championships in Budapest.

Plushenko's successful recent test skate at the Russian Olympic team base at Novogorsk near Moscow impressed the national federation bosses and became the key factor in making their choice. 

Plushenko, who was born near Russia's far-eastern city of Khabarovsk, started his skating training at the age of four after his family moved to Volgograd. 

He showed quick progress but after the ice arena in Volgograd was closed he had to move to Saint Petersburg at the age of 11.

Mishin believed firmly in his pupil's talent and working abilities and those features soon paid off as in the season 2000-01 Plushenko won all of the tournaments in which he participated, including the world championships.

He finished runner-up to compatriot Alexei Yaguin at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and four years later he was at the peak of his career when he won gold in Turin.

After the Games Plushenko retired but returned to compete in Vancouver, where he lost to the American Evan Lysacek by a razor-thin margin.

After losing his eligibility to skate in ISU events because he skated in ice shows he was reinstated in 2011, and won his seventh European title in 2012.

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