Skaters stunned by late Plushenko withdrawal
Russia's Yevgeny Plushenko takes part in a warm-up during the Men's Figure Skating Short Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014 - by Yuri Kadobnov
Plushenko, pulled out shortly before he was due to skate his short programme at the Iceberg Skating Palace, after stumbling out of a triple axel jump and quickly announced he was calling time on his career.
Rumours that the 31-year-old, a two-time Olympic gold and two-time silver medallist, might not compete had been rife after he complained of a sore back after helping his team win the inaugural team gold.
"He has been to four Olympics and has won four Olympic medals and that speaks volumes to his career," said American Jeremy Abbott, who was skating in Plushenko's group and suffered a nasty fall himself on his opening quadruple jump.
"Kudos to him for all he's done for the sport. It's unfortunate to have to withdraw from a competition in that way. But he's still a king in his country."
Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu lifted spirits among the deflated home crowd with a world record score of 101.45 in the short programme to lead Canada's Patrick Chan and Javier Fernandez of Spain.
"I was disappointed not to see him in first place when I took the ice," said Hanyu.
"I took up skating because of him. I respect him and admire him dearly. It's just sad. I'm really glad I had the opportunity to skate against him in the team event."
Three-time world champion Chan, who finished fifth behind silver medallist Plushenko when they competed in Vancouver, said he was disappointed that he did not get to compete against the Russian again.
"It's not like playing hockey, like we're a team sport," said Chan, third in the team short programme behind Hanyu and Plushenko.
- I could see fire in his eyes -
"Figure skating is such an individual event and we compete individual against individual. We hit the stage one by one.
"I am disappointed he wasn't fit to compete. I wish him well for a quick recovery."
American Jason Brown admitted he couldn't believe his ears when he heard his idol had withdrawn.
"I was talking to him before he went on and I could see fire in his eyes," Brown said.
"I feel bad for him. I wish he could be out there competing because I know he wanted to be.
"I admire him so much. He is the most decorated figure skater and I hope he recovers."
But amid the accolades from skaters many of whom took up the sport because of the Russian star who won the first of his five world medals -- three in gold -- in 1998, were questions over the lateness of the call.
Czech Tomas Verner said Plushenko should have withdrawn earlier to give another competitor a shot, with Russia now without a skater in the men's event.
"I'm sorry for the other Russian guys who couldn't take his place," said Verner, referring to the likes of national champion Maxim Kovtun or Sergei Voronov, the 2014 European silver medallist.
"I think Zhenya (Plushenko) is a great athlete, but today it was more expected that he wouldn't be able to compete.
- 'Put someone else in the game' -
"He might have just outskated himself in the team event. He won a gold medal there and I congratulate him for that and it is rightfully his.
"But it's a shame he couldn't say, 'Guys, I'm tired, put someone else in the game instead of me'."
Plushenko's coach Alexei Mishin defended his decision to compete.
"We didn't do anything that wasn't fair play," he said.
"I know that the morning after the free skate (of the team event) the (Russian figure skating) federation should have made a change, but at that time he was OK."
Plushenko's wife and main cheerleader and promoter Yana Rudkovskaya tweeted: "It is not possible to fight both the opponents and the pain! He has already brought his country an Olympic gold medal! Four medals and four Games. He is a legend!"
Vancouver Olympic gold medallist Evan Lysacek, who took the title controversially ahead of Plushenko, posted a picture on Twitter with empty seats after the Russian's departure.
"Plushenko pulled and crowd began to flee. By the last group, it was less than half full," said Lysacek.