by Alexandra Stevenson
(23 January 2013)
Multi-Medaling Super Athlete Falls But is Still a Star Worth Watching
A lower back spinal injury has caused Evgeny Plushenko, 2006 Olympic gold medalist, who also earned silver in the 2002 and 2010 Games, to pull out of the European Championships, after a flawed showing in Thursday’s initial round straddled him in sixth place.
The 30-year old has competed in this championship on and off since 1998, earning nothing lower than second place. He has three silver medals and six golds, the last gained in 2012 in a legendary career. His goal is to compete in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi in his native Russia. He has already come out of retirement twice. Now, he returns to Moscow to his second wife who, on January 6, delivered his second son.
On Wednesday, the legendary skater seemed very calm as ISU officials, including Dr. Sanda Dubravcic (the skater who lit the flame at the Sarajevo Olympic Games, who is from Zagreb, and on the ISU Medical committee) counseled him to withdraw because he had fallen twice in practice and has a lower spinal problem.
Today, televised shots of him backstage before the Short Program showed him smiling and quite mobile, but a close up of the eyes appeared to betray him. He has a look of slight puzzlement or possibly even of annoyance that he is "on camera" all the time. But the smile stays in place. The gang of journalists photographing and following him is claustrophobic to anyone even around him.
He was shown on television walking about backstage before his on-ice warm-up seemingly not in any pain. He drew to skate 17th in the field of 30 competitors from 24 countries, which was fifth in the third of the five groups of six competitors. The first during-the-competition ice resurface had just taken place before his group took the ice, and the ice’s condition was said to be good.
A huge cheer and waving flags greeted his appearance on his warm-up. Like most of the male competitors, he was in black with some silver, and some half-transparent black chiffon areas. Initially, he looked in impressive. Although he doubled one jump, a Lutz, he sailed through others, a triple loop, a triple Lutz to triple toe loop and a lovely triple Axel all landed with a softness which contrasted with the scrapping, scratchy sounds of some of the other competitors who hold their landing with force rather than correct edge placement.
He initially completely outshone the others in his group, particular in his posture and out-going connection with the audience. But, as the warm-up continued, he stopped doing jumps and began to "walk through" his program executing a series of double three turns for the rotation in jump simulations. A half-hearted attempt at a spin travelled a bit instead of staying on its center, and a footwork sequence was abandoned after a few steps.
He skated to "Storm" by Yanni, arranged by his friend, Edvin Marton, immediately following Kim Lucine who represents Monaco and right before long time US resident and Austrian champion Viktor Pfeifer, who skates for his birth country, Austria.
It was an obviously flawed showing. He did not attempt the quad toe to triple toe listed as his first element on his advance information sheet. Instead, he substituted a triple Lutz. But he messed that up, jacknifing his body forward on the landing, which prevented him getting into the air for the second jump. He got half a point removed from the base value, and had to add the missing triple toe loop to the triple loop executed later in the program, which he did with remarkable skill.
But before that he fell on the triple Axel. That would have wiped any less famous skater completely out of contention. But he did fight to do his best on the other elements, and the steps, in particular, were extremely creatively devised, well performed to the music and highly appreciated by the audience. Although the Technical Panel awarded the steps only Level 2, the nine members of the judging panel showed their appreciation with Grades of Execution which comprised three of the maximum +3s and six +2s.
His components ranged from lows of three 7.0 (two for Transitions and for performance, each from a different judge) up to two 9.0s for the fifth category, Interpretation.
Coach, Alexei Mishin, came out to talk to the assembled journalists holding his arms up as if surrendering to gunmen. He then shrugged his shoulders and said, "He wasn't fit but we had to participate in this competition."
Plushenko later said, "It wasn't a magic day today. I fell on the triple Axel. Maybe I rushed it. Maybe I wasn't completely focused. When we got here to the ice rink we decided not to go for the quad toe loop but for the triple Lutz instead and maybe I didn't fully switch my focus.
“The fall on the triple Axel is an unforgiveable mistake for me. It wasn't the injury. it wasn't my back. I missed an easy element for me. I need to do the triple Axel with my eyes closed. It's been a long time since I missed it - probably in Budapest (at the 2004 Europeans). I didn't come here to win the gold medal but I came to skate clean."
There was a noticeable cut on his right hand. "I cut my hand tying my laces before skating," he explained. Maybe that was a sign from above, that he's just human, after all.
He was the only skater in the top nine to fall. However, he earned 74.82 points and had the satisfaction of beating the young Russian upstart, Maxim Kovtun, if only by a fraction of a point (0.36). Maxim Kovtun lies seventh, not bad for someone making their debut. There has been quite a controversy in Russia about sending the 17 year old, who placed only fifth in the Russian national championship, instead of the 29-year-old bronze medalist Konstantin Menshov.
Plushenko has Kovtun beaten in one other area. He was only 15 in his first European championship in 1998 when he earned the silver.
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