The Sochi Network

Russia’s Plushenko mocked after Sochi exit

He has described himself as an "old man", been disparaged as "an invalid", even his coach joked he is only fit for the Paralympics, leaving many to wonder why Yevgeny Plushenko bothered showing up at the Sochi Winter Games at all.

Since the four-time Olympian hobbled off the ice - citing the flare up of an old injury for which he has had multiple surgeries - host-nation Russia has no skater in contention for the podium in the men's event on Friday.

The audience barely had time to react as the one they had come to cheer left the ice, clutching his back before even a note of his music had sounded.

"When he got off the ice the rink just about fell in, just about collapsed around itself," Canada's former four-time world figure skating champion Kurt Browning said of the atmosphere at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

"It was an unfortunate end to an amazing career. I was disappointed that the very last time he steps off the ice, it wasn't to a rousing standing ovation."

Despite the criticism, for many Russians Plushenko still epitomises the best of the sport.

The 31-year-old's dramatic exit left some fans with a bitter aftertaste and overshadowed his role in Russia's team event gold medal. His performance in the team event looked like it may justify his controversial pick over national champion Maxim Kovtun.

"Don't criticise him too much," Alexei Mishin, Plushenko's long-time coach, told reporters. "Mostly he has been a winner."

But his words did little to stop the criticism.

Triple Olympic gold medallist and pro-Kremlin lawmaker Irina Rodnina said the episode was "not very sportsmanlike," while outspoken lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky told state television: "Kovtun is shoved aside while this invalid has brought shame on us."

Georgy Cherdantsev, a sports analyst at NTV Plus, told viewers: "The overall feeling is that this whole story with Plushenko is a vile setup."

Russian officials and veteran coaches have defended the decision to go with Plushenko's experience over the 18-year-old Kovtun as Russia's sole men's skater in Sochi.

"He gave it his all in the team competition," Russia's top skating official, Alexander Gorshkov, said in a statement. "In professional sports, injuries are not rare ... I don't understand why there is such an uproar."

The skating community also closed ranks around Plushenko, though some say they were not that surprised to see him opt out of trying to match what proved to be a record-breaking performance by Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu.

"It would have been a tall order, but you never know," 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi said.

Tara Lipinski, who won Olympic gold in 1998, paid tribute to Plushenko's ability to push his body to the limit.

"He is 31 and he is doing quad triple toes, that has got to take a toll on your body so, no matter what, the way he has pushed through to this point is admirable.

"What he did in the team event was so memorable."

Reuters