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Plushenko withdraws, takes final bows on career

Russian superstar injures back in warm-up, later announces retirement
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Evgeni Plushenko waves farewell to the crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace. -Getty Images

Evgeni Plushenko, who first appeared at the world championships in 1998 and competed at four Olympics, has skated his final performance on competitive ice.

The 31-year-old Russian was scheduled to compete first in Thursday evening's second group of six men contesting the men's short program. During his six-minute warm-up, he attempted a triple Axel, landed awkwardly and began clutching his back. After a few minutes of consultation with longtime coach Alexei Mishin, he skated over to event referee Mona Jonsson and pulled out.

"I landed my first triple Axel (in the warm-up) and it felt like a knife in my back," Plushenko said in the mixed zone immediately following his withdrawal. "The second triple Axel was horrible. I had a hard landing and did not feel my right leg."

Plushenko has had numerous surgeries in recent years, including back surgery in early 2013 that inserted several screws. He skated well enough to place second in the team short program held Feb. 6 and won the team free skate Feb. 9 to help lead Russia to a gold medal. But troubles began in a Thursday afternoon practice.

"I fell on a triple Axel and quad toe," Plushenko said. "Today, in the morning, I couldn't jump.

"I said to myself, 'Evgeni, you must skate, you must skate -- it is two more days, short and long program.' I did two pills before the short program and it did not help. I think, God said, 'Enough.'"

In the mixed zone, Mishin begged reporters to take it easy on the 2006 Olympic champion, who also won silver medals in 2002 and 2010.

"It is not tragic what happened with Evgeni," Mishin said. "I worked with him for 20 years, and he was mostly a winner. If he is one time not a winner, don't push him too much, don't criticize him too much."

The criticism will come from those who think Plushenko should have withdrawn immediately following his team free skate to allow first alternate Maxim Kovtun -- who defeated Plushenko at the most recent Russian championships -- to compete in the individual Olympic men's event.

Plushenko skated his team free on Sunday night, and ISU Communication #1844 stated substitutions for "urgent medical reasons" were permitted until Monday at 10:00 a.m.

Asked why Plushenko did not withdraw in time for Kovtun to replace him, Mishin danced a bit.

"We do not like to do any tricks," he said. "[The rules say] it should be a fresh injury, but it was not. ... As much as I am talking, [that is] as much trouble as I will get into."

Mishin confirmed that Plushenko had retired from eligible competition.

"Of course he is able to skate like a showman, but not like an amateur skater," Mishin said. "This new generation of Olympians will bring us skating."

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