Yevgeny Plushenko's rivals stunned by his sudden withdrawal
Four-time Olympic medallist's sudden exit is due to injury in the men's short programme
Yevgeny Plushenko's rivals were stunned after hearing that the four-time Olympic medallist had withdrawn injured at the last minute from the Winter Olympic Games.
Plushenko pulled out shortly before he was due to skate his short programme at the Iceberg Skating Palace after stumbling out of a triple axel jump. He quickly announced he was calling time on his career.
Rumours that the 31-year-old, a two-time Olympic gold and two-time silver medallist, might not compete had been rife after he complained of a sore back after helping his team win the inaugural team gold.
"He has been to four Olympics and has won four Olympic medals and that speaks volumes to his career," said American Jeremy Abbott, who was skating in Plushenko's group.
"Kudos to him for all he's done for the sport. It's unfortunate to have to withdraw from a competition in that way. But he's still a king in his country."
Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu lifted spirits among the deflated home crowd with a world record score of 101.45 in the short programme to lead Canada's Patrick Chan and Javier Fernandez, of Spain.
"I was disappointed not to see him in first place when I took the ice," said Hanyu. "I took up skating because of him. I respect him and admire him dearly. It's just sad. I'm really glad I had the opportunity to skate against him in the team event."
Three-time world champion Chan, who finished fifth behind silver medallist Plushenko when they competed in Vancouver, said he was disappointed that he did not get to compete against the Russian again.
"It's not like playing hockey, like we're a team sport," said Chan, third in the team short programme behind Hanyu and Plushenko.
"Figure skating is such an individual event and we compete individual against individual. We hit the stage one by one. I am disappointed he wasn't fit to compete. I wish him well."
American Jason Brown admitted he couldn't believe his ears when he heard his idol had withdrawn.
"I was talking to him before he went on and I could see fire in his eyes," Brown said. "I feel bad for him. I wish he could be out there competing because I know he wanted to be.
"I admire him so much. He is the most decorated figure skater and I hope he recovers."
But amid the accolades from skaters, many of whom took up the sport because of the Russian star who won the first of his five world medals - three in gold - in 1998, were questions over the lateness of the call.
Czech Tomas Verner said Plushenko should have withdrawn earlier to give another competitor a shot.
Plushenko's coach Alexei Mishin defended his decision to compete.
"We didn't do anything that wasn't fair play," he said. "I know that the morning after the free skate [of the team event] the [Russian] federation should have made a change, but at that time he was OK."
Plushenko's wife and promoter Yana Rudkovskaya tweeted: "It is not possible to fight both the opponents and the pain! He has already brought his country an Olympic gold medal! Four medals and four Games. He is a legend!"