After helping the Russian squad to earn gold in the inaugural figure skating team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, home crowd favorite Evgeni Plushenko withdrew suddenly from the men's event on Feb. 13, just moments before he was scheduled to skate his short program.
Plushenko, 31, has battled back problems in recent history and Nancy Armour of USA Today reported that the popular veteran skater "looked clearly uncomfortable" during event warm-ups on Feb. 13. He cited medical reasons for his withdrawal.
The departure of the four-time Olympic medalist, who won singles gold at the 2006 Torino Games, deals a significant blow to Russia as Plushenko was the sole male Russian skater on the competition roster. Had he chosen to withdraw earlier in the week, Russian officials could have chosen a replacement. The most likely candidate to take the spot would have been reigning Russian national champion Maxim Kovtun, 18, who was left without an Olympic ticket after Plushenko insisted that officials grant him Russia's sole competition berth.
With Plushenko out of the picture, the potential medal picture changes, with Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Patrick Chan of Canada likely set to battle it out for gold and the bronze available to a wide field of hopefuls that includes a talented pair of Japanese skaters in Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi, and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten, among others.
The men's individual figure skating event will continue Feb. 14 with the long program round.