SOCHI, Russia – The backlash against Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko dropping out of the men's individual event because of injury has caused a firestorm of criticism here. That included a national politician on Friday calling for a law to be passed banning any Russian from competing in more than two Olympics.
"Two Olympics and get lost. Let the youngsters have a go," LDPR party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said, according to Russian media. "Plushenko is an invalid."
Whether the proposed law gathers any support remains to be seen. The obvious counter point is such a proposal would gut the powerful Russian hockey team by prohibiting stars such as Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin from competing in the future.
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However, that underscores the anger at Plushenko and the Russian skating federation that gave him a spot on the team despite him being 31 years old and having had 12 surgeries through the years. Plushenko, who won gold in 2006 and silver in both the 2002 and 2010 Games, became the first figure skater to medal in four different Olympics when he helped Russia to victory in the new team event last week.
The Russian media openly questioned whether the team should have taken a younger skater in his place and doubted whether Plushenko could – or even planned to – actually compete in the individual events.
Skating is such a demanding physical sport, it generally rewards the young – even teenagers. Plushenko was trying to defy time. By dropping out, he might have cost Russia a medal as the host nation doesn't have a representative in the men's competition.
Plushenko and Russian Olympic officials defended the decision and said he was going to skate before his back flared up just prior to Thursday's short program. He pulled out just after being introduced to the crowd.
"I'm disappointed," Plushenko said Thursday. "I tried my best and I wanted to skate. It is sad."
"He gave everything in the team competition," team president Alexander Gorshkov said in a statement. "If it weren't for the circumstances, he would have continued in the individual competition."
Few seem to be buying that. Including a grandstanding politician who might unwittingly destroy future Russian hockey teams.
For photos from the men's short program, click on the image below: