At the Iceberg Skating Palace, there was disbelief when the
announcement came over the public address system that the
31-year-old would not compete in the men's individual figure skating
event after he injured himself during his warm-up.
The news came just seconds before Plushenko was due to start his
short program, and left a stunned audience wondering if they had
witnessed the end of a glittering career.
Plushenko, a controversial selection for the Games because of the
lack of competitive action in the build-up, won his fourth Olympic
medal on Sunday when he helped Russia triumph in the inaugural team
But during his warmup he repeatedly clutched his back.
"I came out for the warm-up... and in the first triple Axel I
stepped out and felt like I had a knife in my back," he told
"And the second triple Axel, it was a horrible one. It was a hard
landing and after this I didn't feel my right leg. I took four
painkillers and it didn't help. I think it was God saying, 'Yevgeny,
enough is enough'."
A few hundred meters away at the futuristic Bolshoy Ice Dome, the
mood could not have been more different.
More than 10,000 flag-waving Russian fans roared the men in red to a
somewhat labored 5-2 win over Slovenia, underlining the sport's
popularity in Russia and how dearly the home nation would love to
win the final held on the last day of the Games.
As ice hockey mania swept Sochi, the United States laid down a
marker by thumping Slovakia 7-1, and Canada opened the defense of
their title against Norway with a 3-1 victory.
The news of Plushenko's withdrawal, on the sixth full day of
competition, took some of the gloss off a day when six medals were
U.S. CLEAN SWEEP, SLUSHY SNOW
In the mountains, Joss Christensen of the United States won the
inaugural men's freestyle skiing slopestyle.
Gus Kenworthy took silver and Nick Goepper the bronze in a U.S.
podium sweep, taking pressure off a team that some American media
had begun to question as it languished down the medals leaderboard.
"I am shocked. I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America,
we did it!" said Christensen, after another bumper crowd at the
Extreme Park saw skiers push their acrobatic routines to the limits.
In the women's cross-country 10km classic, several athletes wore
sleeveless tops as temperatures touched 13C in bright sunshine and
contestants complained of tough conditions.
Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk powered to victory, but Russian Natalia
Zhukova, who finished seventh, told reporters: "It's the first time
of my life I've raced in such warm weather."
In the latest weather-related disruption, practice for the men's
freestyle skiing aerials event was canceled because of unseasonably
But organizers played down concerns about the quality of the snow
that many athletes have described as slushy and difficult, and which
may explain some of the crashes in disciplines ranging from
slopestyle to cross country.
"It is a constant battle for winter sports," said Mark Adams,
International Olympic Committee spokesman. "We are relaxed but we
watch the situation."
Also in the mountains, France's Martin Fourcade won the men's
biathlon 20km individual title, his second gold of the Games.
Back in Sochi, Li Jianrou avoided an early pile-up to win the
women's 500 metres short track speed skating, extending China's
winning streak at the distance to a fourth Winter Games.
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The 27-year-old first-time Olympian described it as "a miracle"
[ID:nL5N0LI2ZK] while Britain's Christie Elise left the rink in
tears after being relegated from second place to eighth after
causing a crash on the first bend which saw three of the four
Compatriot Zhang Hong claimed the women's 1,000m speed skating title
at the Adler Arena, beating pre-race favorites Heather Richardson
and Brittany Bowe of the United States.
In the sliding disciplines, a track worker was struck by a bobsleigh
and suffered two broken legs during a practice session, IOC
President Thomas Bach told Reuters.
In the last event of the day, the inaugural team relay went to luge
powerhouse Germany, making it a clean sweep of all four luge gold
medals at the Sochi Olympics.
Germany are top of the medals table with seven golds, ahead of
Canada, Norway, the Netherlands and the United States, all on four.
Russia are seventh with two.
DREAMING OF HOCKEY GOLD
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his legacy on
holding a successful Games, the ultimate sporting dream would be the
men's ice hockey gold, and the hosts' pool match against the United
States on Saturday has stirred memories of the "Miracle on Ice" at
the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Thirty-four years ago, a group of American college players beat the
then Soviet Union's "Big Red Machine" 4-3 in a mismatch of David and
Goliath proportions en route to a highly unlikely gold.
The Cold War climate that then prevailed may have thawed, but Putin
has conjured frosty relations of the time to attack Western
criticism of his human rights record, and allegations of corruption
connected with the Games, which marred the build-up.
Underlining the level of mutual suspicion, a poll taken at the start
of the Games showed that nearly two-thirds of people in the United
States hold an "unfavorable" view of Russia and its president Putin.
Putin has dismissed charges of widespread corruption, leveled at
organizers after the estimated costs topped $50 billion, making them
the most expensive Olympics ever held.
Officials dispute the figure, and say that many of the huge
construction projects associated with Sochi will help turn the area
into an international sports centre of the future.
They hope one of the main lasting legacies will be a Formula One
racetrack being laid in and around the Olympic Park, which is
scheduled to be ready for Russia's Grand Prix on October 12.
But Sergei Kolesnikov, a Russian biophysicist who campaigns to
expose what he says is major corruption in the country, said during
a visit to Washington this week that Sochi may not end up as the
triumph Putin hopes it will be.
"I think... the Olympics drives many Russians crazy because the
standard of life is decreasing," he said.
"Everyone is going to look back from this and remember only that $52
billion was thrown away for nothing... everybody knows how much
money was stolen to make the Olympics happen, so what should we be
(Additional reporting by the Reuters Winter Olympics team in Sochi
and Rosa Khutor and John Shiffman and Susan Heavey in Washington)
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