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February 14, 2014 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Figure skater Evgeni Plushenko (wiki) withdrew from the men's individual event at the Olympics in Sochi and announced his retirement from amateur skating (NYT) only days after winning gold in the team event. Plushenko has won medals at four Olympic Games* (2006 gold: Short Program, Free Skating; 2014 gold; 2002: SP, FS, 2010: SP, FS); he has won 17 gold, 8 silver and 2 bronze medals in major competitions in spite of a 2006-2008 hiatus and he holds 10 titles in the Russian Nationals in a career spanning over 17 years. He was famous not only for his technique, but also for his grace and showmanship.

Plushenko had withdrawn out of the 2010 & 2012 World Championships and the 2013 European Championships due to injuries. He set various scoring records in his career and, in spite of his age, his personal bests were recent: in Sochi for the short program and in the 2012 Europeans for free skating (the "technique" link above) and for the combined total.

He became the youngest-ever World Junior Champion at 14 and World medalist at 15 (SP, FS) and has stayed consistently at the top level. He was involved twice in scoring controversies, but he also knew how to work a crowd ("quel showman!", 2006 Gala, 2010 Gala) or give a Eurovision-winning performance.

*Only he and Gillis Grafstrom, in the 1920-1932 Games, have done so.
posted by ersatz (42 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Plushenko's 2014 performance was particularly beautiful when you could see his deliberate, theatrical movements up close. Here's a video that I think gives a better perspective from that angle than the one above.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:55 AM on February 14


I am so, so happy that they are covering all of the skaters on TV/online WITH COMMENTARY, not just the contenders. For the first time ever, I do not miss living close to the Canadian border. (Not to say the coverage doesn't has its issues, but this is the first time they've covered all the athletes, with commentary, in my lifetime.)

Did you see the coverage of him in the back room, where the camera did a closeup of the scar on his back? Ouch.
posted by Melismata at 8:07 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I think that video might be from the Russian Nationals (e.g.) rather than from the Olympics, judging by the score. You're right that the angle of that 2014 video I linked to leaves a lot to be desired – it's not even complete –, but I couldn't find anything better since the games are still on.

I also forgot to link to this. I mostly got into figure skating due to Plushenko – sad to see him go.
posted by ersatz at 8:13 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


From the wiki: He skated at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, and received a score of 90.85 for his short program performance, breaking the Olympic record and leading all competitors. Following his skate, Plushenko said "Without a quad it's not men's figure skating. I will do the quad in any case. I believe that the quad is the future of figure skating. The quad is necessary, that is my opinion."

I agree here, but there are a lot of growing pains right now as men's figure skating adjusts for the quad. Skater after skater bit it hard trying to perform quads yesterday, it was brutal. Jason Brown, currently quad-less, placed really high after the short program yesterday not only because he had a great routine but also because a lot of skaters thought to be better fell. I can't remember an Olympics with so many falls in competition (does anyone track that? I would be very interested to know if I'm right or if it's just confirmation bias).
posted by troika at 8:13 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Plushenko is the perfect example of how, with the right attitude, you can make even the most ridiculous things seem totally bad ass. I find every individual part of him kinda silly when I examine it alone, but put it all together into the package that is him, and he's a magnet I am pulled towards and that I let myself be pulled to without any reservation.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:26 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


Troika, the same thing happened for the women circa 1988-1992. Women almost never did triple jumps before then, and IIRC there was a lot of hand-wringing over Debi Thomas and many of the others falling all the time. But now, the triples are just par for the course. We're always pushing, pushing what can be done for some reason.
posted by Melismata at 8:27 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Huh, I didn't even realize they had team figure skating now. That's new, right?
posted by kmz at 8:31 AM on February 14


Yes, brand new this year. More figure skating=more TV ratings=more ad money for people not you, me, or the athletes. Hope they don't saturate it to the point where people get turned off.
posted by Melismata at 8:32 AM on February 14


If he's had that many surgeries, it's incredible that he was ever able to keep going at all, never mind at an OLYMPIC level.
posted by HotToddy at 8:39 AM on February 14


I didn't realize he had just retired! I am so glad I managed to see him skate one last time this past weekend. He was wonderful.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:41 AM on February 14


Ach, I'm actually missing watching the men's long program because mentioning Plush is like waving a red cloth in front of me.
He basically skated the same 1998-style program over and over.
His choreography consists of windmill arms, non-COP footwork and OK spins, but he was not marked down for it.
He was paced on the Russian team this year without even trying to skate at their nationals.
But unlike Wagner and Takahashi, there's been little controversy about him replacing a medalist (their national champion, no less) that among the (EveryFourYears) public. (Well, in the US they probably don't even know it due to dreadful coverage.)
If his ego hadn't gotten in the way he should've realized he didn't have it in him to do all that skating this week, and let Kovtun have at least some Olympic experience in the singles.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:47 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I'm not really a big fan of figure skating and mainly watch it when the Olympics are on, but watching Plushenko decide he couldn't do his individual program and skate painfully over to tell the judges he was withdrawing from competition was a little heartbreaking.
posted by aught at 9:18 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Yes, brand new this year. More figure skating=more TV ratings=more ad money for people not you, me, or the athletes.

Um - I'm seeing a whole lot of Gracie Gold et alia in adverts. Not that I begrudge her - door to that barn was shamefully thrown away when the US hired NBA players to ensure a gold medal in 1992 - but it's not as if the athletes are waiting until after the competition to rake in the shekels. We used to at least pretend this was amateur athletics.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:23 AM on February 14


Not that I begrudge her - door to that barn was shamefully thrown away when the US hired NBA players to ensure a gold medal in 1992

I'm pretty sure it started before that with hockey, wherein a lot of foreign-born NHL players were returning home to play for their native countries every four years. I seem to recall that being one of the justifications the US basketball team used when they were trying to get approval to let pro players compete.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:33 AM on February 14


> We used to at least pretend this was amateur athletics.

Yes, we did, and the fact that western nations with true amateurs played Soviet teams full of "amateurs" just proved how ridiculous it was to keep pretending.

Amateurism is a misguided 19th-century rich-person ideal that, from the beginning, has been at odds with the faster-higher-stronger Olympic philosophy. Before the Dream Team, we sent college players to the Games; the fact that college players are considered amateurs (and therefore unpaid) is no more morally defensible than the idea that the best people in a sport, salary or not, should be competing in the Olympics.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:41 AM on February 14 [12 favorites]


OK, in doing some googling, it looks like the NHL didn't officially start allowing their players to compete in the Olympics until 1998, so my datapoint might be apocryphal.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:43 AM on February 14


We used to at least pretend this was amateur athletics.

Yes, we did, and the fact that western nations with true amateurs played Soviet teams full of "amateurs" just proved how ridiculous it was to keep pretending.

Another, better reason to stop pretending is that the amateur qualification was always classist—the training required to perform at an Olympic level (never mind getting to be eligible to possibly go to the Olympics in the first place) is pretty expensive, and also rather time-consuming, and reserving the spots on the teams for amateurs means it will be open to (a) people with a lot of state support and (b) people with a lot of money. There's no shame in having to work for a living, and it's not as if the US is big into subsidizing comprehensive training programs from youth on up.
posted by kenko at 9:54 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


> Another, better reason to stop pretending is that the amateur qualification was always classist

Which was part of the point, if we're honest about its origins. The public school mentality of "sound mind in a sound body" is a charitable spin on a sentiment that was probably more like "if we let the lower orders play, then they might beat us — hence we should only include people privileged enough to be faffing about at this thing rather than taking it seriously."
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:13 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure it started before that with hockey

Oh, I'm sure it started long before that if you want to get picky. I just thought the NBA ringers were particularly egregious. Soviets back in the day - what can one say? By definition, no one was an amateur at anything in Former Soviet Union.

Amateurism is a misguided 19th-century rich-person ideal

Those damn rich Victorian idealists!
posted by IndigoJones at 10:14 AM on February 14


I see I should have read the rest of your comment!
posted by kenko at 10:15 AM on February 14


By definition, no one was an amateur at anything in Former Soviet Union.

Fun(?) Fact: Despite the fact that virtually every Soviet hockey player of note was by profession a soldier in the Red Army and that nearly 10,000 members of the Red Army died in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, the NFL has more players who died in Afghanistan than the Red Army hockey team (1, Pat Tillman).
posted by Copronymus at 10:35 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Just for fun: Plushenko's original 'Sex Bomb' routine mashed up with Ginuwine's 'Pony'.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:44 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]


Thanks for beating me to it, ActionPopulated. That video is PERFECT for Valentine's Day. (seriously)
posted by raihan_ at 10:50 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


They used that stupid amateurs rule to strip Jim Thorpe of his Olympic medals because he'd dared to made a little money playing minor league baseball during the summer a few years before the 1912 Olympics. Someone richer wouldn't have needed the money and someone more sophisiticated would have known to use an alias (as other college players did back then), but the sportocrats could get to him. He was a real champion, but the gentlemen got to pretend they were better than him.
posted by Area Man at 10:51 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


Fun(?) Fact: Despite the fact that virtually every Soviet hockey player of note was by profession a soldier in the Red Army and that nearly 10,000 members of the Red Army died in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, the NFL has more players who died in Afghanistan than the Red Army hockey team (1, Pat Tillman).

Copronymus, with fun facts like that, you should apply for a job on the production team for the Golden Globes telecast.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:03 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Copronymus, with fun facts like that, you should apply for a job on the production team for the Golden Globes telecast.

Yeah, I was completely locked into "I know a related fact!" mode and didn't really realize that it was actually pretty ghoulish until just before I posted it.
posted by Copronymus at 11:30 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The Winter Olympics are really just a big party thrown for the wealthy athletic elites. Russia had a different meaning for the word "party" back during the Cold War, but they seem to be adopting the Western meaning fairly quickly.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:54 AM on February 14


Despite the fact that virtually every Soviet hockey player of note was by profession a soldier in the Red Army

This is actually a common model for supporting elite sport, to the point that there are international military sporting competitions. (The US has fewer military athletes than many countries, but it does have them. Germany has a lot, with a military athlete competing in something like all but two events in Vancouver--one was curling, IIRC.)
posted by hoyland at 12:01 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The Winter Olympics are really just a big party thrown for the wealthy athletic elites.

I have come to the same conclusion. Not that there aren't plenty of those at the Summer games, too, but it's not in the same ballpark. Want to sprint or play ball? For the latter you just need a ball (or a stick and a ball depending on what kind of ball) and for the former you just need legs. And not even those sometimes.

Compare that to, say, luge or slopestyle skiing or what have you. Yeah. It's like watching yachting.
posted by Justinian at 12:06 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


The Winter Olympics are really just a big party thrown for the wealthy athletic elites. Russia had a different meaning for the word "party" back during the Cold War, but they seem to be adopting the Western meaning fairly quickly.

I don't agree. Lots of the athletes make little to no money. Brian Gregg, for instance, is a cross country skier who lives in North Minneapolis in a house he and his wife (also a skier) bought for $10,000. They get some prize money from winning races now and then, but there isn't much prize money in the U.S. for even the best domestic cross country skiers. They also work for the Boys & Girls Club, but that doesn't pay much. They've been able to pursue their sport because they've learned how to live on very little. The folks on the U.S. curling team are from Minnesota and Wisconsin and have regular jobs like restaurant manager, teacher, etc. Many of the biathletes live in Lake Placid in dorm-like rooms at the Olympic traning facility. Most of them couldn't really afford to live anywhere else on what a U.S. Biathlete makes. The women ski jumpers are now starting to get some sponsorhip money, but had years when they were holding bake sales to fund their team.
posted by Area Man at 12:11 PM on February 14 [11 favorites]


I'm sorry, ActionPopulated, Ima let you finish but this is the best ice skating video for Valentine's Day of all time.
posted by winna at 12:17 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The expense isn't concentrated in the time whe you are the top of your game, it's in the years spent getting there. I'd say the most accessible sport in the Winter Olympics is XC but the rest? For downhill, you've got new skis and boots almost very year, team fees, travel fees, season lift pass. And figure skating is much worse with year-round private coaching fees, rink rental, costume costs, supplemental training in strength and dance. Most kids who have parents willing to get them in skate lessons don't have the money to move their kid into serious competition.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:20 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, winna and ActionPopulated, but you're both wrong.

I don't really follow figure skating anymore, but there is nothing I have ever seen on ice better than that. Not Viktor Petrenko at his best, not Surya Bonaly's incredible athleticism, not Brasseur & Eisler, nobody.

And nobody has ever, imho, put that level of restrained sensuality and romance on ice before or since.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:47 PM on February 14 [9 favorites]


What fffm said . . . and it was 30 years ago today, on Valentine's Day.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:01 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I had completely forgotten that, FelliniBlank. I was only five, but I remember watching it. And then watching them come back ten years later and do it all over again, but even better; more maturity, more elegance of line, more restraint.

I mean I like Jonny Weir and all, he's fun. But the essence of artistry is editing, stripping down to what you need to say. Torvill and Dean just... I still get goosebumps anytime I watch that routine.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:07 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


What fffm said . . . and it was 30 years ago today, on Valentine's Day.

THIRTY? Oh, wow. It doesn't feel like it's been that long...and yet. I had Torvill and Dean recorded on VHS(!!) and I wore that tape OUT. Still completely in love with that program.

Plushenko's retirement is depressing to me. I have always adored him and his willingness to be a great big dork. He has always been so much fun!
posted by MissySedai at 1:08 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I am so, so happy that they are covering all of the skaters on TV/online WITH COMMENTARY, not just the contenders.

This, this, this. I don't remember them doing it last time. Or maybe they did online only, but this time they're showing them live on TV in the (USA) morning, so I've been able to Tivo/DVR it.

Weir & Lipinksi are giving better commentary during those live shows than Hamilton and what's her face in the evening shows.

During the team competition last weekend, they were saying Pluschenko had only wanted to skate for the team events, and not do the men's singles. But it turns out the rules stated he had to be in both unless he got injured. I got the impression Russia kinda begged him to do it, as a ringer, because they deeply wanted that first team medal.

Cute story Johnny Weir told during one of the broadcasts, Pluschenko came up to Jason Brown, who's been getting so much attention after this performance at US nationals last month and said "I like your skating," and Jason was all "no no no no! I love YOUR skating!!"
posted by dnash at 1:53 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


"Figure skater Evgeni Plushenko withdrew from the men's individual event"

Putin must be so happy about this, considering Russia's 8th place ranking in the medal standings...
posted by markkraft at 4:25 PM on February 14


I don't even follow figure skating but I love Plushenko. It won't be the same without him.
posted by biscotti at 4:49 PM on February 14


I mean I like Jonny Weir and all, he's fun. But the essence of artistry is editing, stripping down to what you need to say. Torvill and Dean just... I still get goosebumps anytime I watch that routine.

'Course, to be fair, Torvill and Dean are ice dancers, so they're working out of a whole different set of rules and conventions than the singles and pairs skaters. I'm partial to ice dancing myself and think it's at least as demanding as throws-n-jumps skating. I remember in '84 the entire world had its collective jaw hanging open after that performance, and it really hasn't aged at all.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:53 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Wow, apparently T&D just did the Bolero routine again today in Sarajevo.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:00 PM on February 14


[One comment deleted; maybe put Russian homophobia and protests links in this thread where it's more on-topic?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:23 AM on February 15


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