Plushenko suffers injury heartbreak, Bjoerndalen flops

Agence France-Presse

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Yevgeny Plushenko stunned Russia Thursday when he was forced out of the Winter Olympics with a back injury, ending his hopes of becoming the most medalled man in Games' figure skating history.

Favored figure skater Plushenko withdraws from competition. Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/EPA

SOCHI, Russia – Yevgeny Plushenko stunned Russia Thursday when he was forced out of the Winter Olympics with a back injury, ending his hopes of becoming the most medalled man in Games’ figure skating history.

The two-time gold medallist had warmed up at the Iceberg arena but felt his long-standing back injury as he gingerly attempted a series of jumps, even stumbling at one stage.

After consulting his coach, the 31-year-old gave up on his Sochi dream and waved an emotional farewell to a stunned crowd who had desperately hoped for last golden hurrah from the star who was seeking a record fifth skating medal.

“Yevgeny Plushenko is not taking part in the competition due to injury,” said the stadium announcer at the start of the evening’s short program.

Plushenko had been amongst the favorites but now the gold medal seems likely to be a fight between three-time world champion Patrick Chan, and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

There had been reports the veteran could pull out on medical grounds after complaining of back pain after helping Russia to their first gold of the Games in the new team event.

That was the second Olympic gold for Plushenko who had won the men’s title at the 2006 Turin Olympics. He was also a two-time silver medallist, in 2002 and 2010.

In all six golds were up for grabs on Thursday, but 40-year-old Norwegian biathlon great Ole Einar Bjoerndalen missed out again on his bid to win a record 13th Winter Olympic medal.

He had equalled his compatriot Bjorn Daehlie’s record of 12 medals when he won gold in men’s 10km sprint on Saturday but could only finish fourth in the pursuit on Monday.

– ‘He’s fantastic, a great athlete’ –

On Thursday, he was way down in 34th place as French biathlete Martin Fourcade claimed his second gold of the Games in the men’s 20km individual to add to his triumph in the 12.5km pursuit.

Fourcade became the first French athlete to win two golds at the same Winter Olympics since skier Jean-Claude Killy in 1968.

“He’s fantastic,” Bjoerndalen said of Fourcade. “He’s a great athlete, he’s so strong but I’m glad for him because he’s one of greatest ever.”

Germany’s Erik Lesser was second with Yevgeny Garanichev of Russia taking third.

With temperatures pushing a balmy 16 degrees Celsius at the sub-tropical venue, some athletes taking part in the gruelling women’s 10km cross-country race discarded their winter weather gear in favor of T-shirts.

The rising temperatures also saw tweaks made to the schedule with Thursday’s training for the men’s super-combined ski race brought forward to 0530 GMT as course officials attempted to preserve snow conditions.

It was later revealed that the time for Friday’s race had also been advanced by an hour to 0600 GMT “in order to minimize the weather influence on the competition”, said a Games statement.

Of more pressing concern to organisers was an accident at the Sanki sliding centre where a track worker was left with both legs broken after being hit by a bobsleigh sent down as a forerunner ahead of official training for the two-man bob competition.

– After the warning signal –

“During today’s official bobsleigh training session and according to standard procedure, a warning signal was given ahead of the forerunners’ bob beginning its run on the track,” said a statement from the organisers.

“Near the braking zone, the forerunners’ bob collided with an icemaker. The worker was injured, received immediate medical assistance on the track and was then taken to hospital.

“The reasons for the icemaker’s presence on the track after the warning signal are currently being determined.”

The track was due to stage the final of the luge team relay later in the day.

The day’s first medal contest resulted in a United States sweep in men’s freestyle slopestyle with Joss Christensen seeing off compatriots Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper.

China’s Li Jianrou steered clear of a three-skater pile-up to sprint to gold in the women’s 500m short track while China later took a second gold when Zhang Hong powered to the women’s 1,000m speed skating title.

Justyna Kowalczyk overcame an ankle injury to become the all time greatest Polish Winter Olympian when she destroyed Norway’s stranglehold on the women’s cross country events to take gold in the 10km classic.

Kowalczyk, who fractured her ankle just weeks before the Olympics, more than justified her status of favourite, finishing a colossal 18.4sec ahead of Charlotte Kalla of Sweden who took silver. Therese Johaug of Norway took the bronze.

It was Kowalczyk’s fifth Olympic medal.

In ice hockey, the 2010 runners-up, United States routed Slovakia 7-1 in their opener while Russia beat Slovenia 5-2.

Sidney Crosby’s defending champions Canada start against Norway on Thursday night. –

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