SOCHI, Russia – If Russia wanted an Olympic moment when it selected a 31-year-old Yevgeny Plushenko for the Sochi Games after he had barely skated the past two years, that’s exactly what it got Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Skating to “Tango de Roxanne,” a slow but savvy Plushenko landed a quadruple toe-triple toe combination to start and then hit a triple Axel as well as a triple Lutz all before letting out a guttural cry at the crowd, which roared its approval.
“It was incredible, right?” Plushenko told NBCOlympics.com after his skate. “It was great to skate in front of a home audience. I am so happy to skate today. It was a good program.”
It was a night that was about Plushenko, who until weeks ago wasn’t assured to compete at these Olympics because of just one allotted spots in men’s singles. The three-time Olympic medalist – including gold in 2006 – was second at the Russian National Championships in December to a teenager named Maksim Kovtun, but ultimately he was chosen for the team.
With the Winter Olympics on home ice for the first time ever, Plushenko played into the crowd in only a way that Yevgeny can. The showman, known for his self-indulgence, played to the crowd as he skated in a short program that didn’t have any errors, but lacked visible speed.
It was an exceptional moment in Olympic history: the statesman Plushenko skating in a newly-created team event, making its Olympic debut, while one of the biggest celebrities in the country was performing in what is undoubtedly his swan song, having seemingly quit the sport after both the 2006 and 2010 Games.
In the press mixed zone after his 91.39 score – which ultimately left him in second behind Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu’s 97.98 – Plushenko was in high demand, stopping for just a single question with each reporter.
“In two days we have the free program,” Plushenko said, sweat dripping off his brow. “We will talk later.”
But the country is talking about him now. The crowd roared even when Plushenko landed a jump in his warm-up; the king of skating lived another day at the Sochi Games.