Even after the Russian Nationals, hosted this week by the Iceberg Palace in Sochi, this particular question remains unanswered. And most likely it will remain this way until the end of the Europeans in Budapest, at the middle of January.
by Florentina Tone
These are the facts: at the Russian Nationals in Sochi this week, Evgeni Plushenko finished second, being outscored by his younger rival, the 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun. At the press conference after the free program, Plushenko was rather categorical: given the result, he’ll only skate in the team event at the Olympics, leaving Kovtun to fill the spot for the men’s singles.
As the piece of news grew bigger and bigger (agencies like AFP and Reuters reported from the Championships), it turned out a mistake has been made: Russia has only a male berth at the Olympics in Sochi and whoever earns that particular spot does both events, team and individual. So, no chance for both Plushenko and Kovtun skate at the Olympics, even if in different events.
A day later – after everything turned into a potential “Russian scheme” (“They won’t follow the rules at their own Olympics…”) – a representative of the Russian skating federation clarified the situation: “Not all the sportsmen know the precise rules”, “The final decision on who will be the main representative and who will be the reserve will be taken after the European Championships”, claiming that Plushenko had spoken “out of emotion”. At the same time, at the request of Alexei Mishin, his coach, Evgeni Plushenko will skip the Europeans; and Maxim Kovtun, Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov will represent Russia in Budapest. In other words, with Plushenko out of the Europeans and before making a final decision, the Russian officials most likely want to see how Maxim Kovtun handles the international pressure, before giving him that unique Olympic spot. With a second place at Cup of China, a second place at Rostelecom Cup and a fifth place at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Maxim must demonstrate his fellow Russians that he has better chances than Plushenko to earn an Olympic medal in Sochi.
This being the short version of the story, let’s take a look at it, step by step, as it developed.
Skating with enthusiasm and proving he still has the fighting spirit that made him who he is, Evgeni Plushenko found himself on a disappointing second place at the Russian Nationals, behind Maxim Kovtun (267.37 points vs. 261.37 points). Plushenko was ahead of Kovtun after the short, but he was outscored in the free – and this particular result made him question his participation at the Olympics. “I’ll choose the team event and give the individual competition to a young and promising athlete”, Plushenko told Russian state television, quoted by Reuters. “I am glad that I landed the quad, but there were a lot of mistakes today… I am sensible… It will be enough for me to compete in the team event”. The team event in Sochi will feature six skaters from each of the sport’s disciplines whose points will be added up for an overall team score. Plushenko added: “I cannot call my skate a success. I need more practice so that my legs don’t die on me”, mentioning also that he’ll skip the Europeans in January for exactly the same reason; he needs more practice.
Itar-Tass quoted David Avdish, a choreographer working for the Russian national team: “Evgeni’s decision didn’t catch his team by surprise in any way because the talk that he might miss the Championships in Budapest had been around for quite some time, and we should honor the athletes’ decisions”.
This particular piece of news – Plushenko’s giving up the individual event at the Olympics in Sochi, choosing instead the team competition – grew bigger and bigger during the day; and, in a short time, was followed by a chorus of remarks and corrections. “Well, it would appear Evgeni has not checked the rules. Russia has to have the same skater in both the team and singles events in Sochi. So he can do both or neither (assuming the Russian federation gives it to him). But he can’t do just one”, wrote a fan on a facebook account dedicated to the Russian skater.
Others were rather incisive, suspecting the Russians would intend to break the ISU rules at their own Olympics: “I would be shocked if the Russian Fed isn’t aware of the rules when it’s a Russian Olympics we’re talking about here. The federation appears to be «bending» the rules so as to allow Plushenko to compete first, conveniently claim an injury, and then have Kovtun go. But considering this is all public knowledge that Plushy/Kovtun will split the events, I don’t know how the ISU will respond”.
A day later, Russia’s figure skating federation pointed out no final decision has been made on selection for the Sochi Winter Olympics in February. According to Agence France-Presse citing R-Sport news agency, the federation general director, Valentin Piseyev, said Plushenko spoke “out of emotion” at the end of the free program. “The final decision on who will be the main representative and who will be the reserve will be taken after the European championships”, said Piseyev, trying also to clarify the situation. According to Piseyev, Plushenko’s comments were not logical, as the rules state the same sportsman should represent his country both in the team competition – which comes first – and then the individual; only an injury can allow a replacement. According to Piseyev, “Not all the sportsmen know the precise rules. Yes, Plushenko wants to compete in the Olympics… Everything will depend on his health”. One thing is sure: the federation – and not the skaters – will take the final decision regarding the Russian male skater in Sochi.
Plushenko’s decision to skip the Europeans has become official. The Figure Skating Federation of Russia has appointed members of the national team for the European Figure Skating Championships – and Evgeni Plushenko was not listed among the athletes going to Budapest. The three athletes to compete on behalf of Russia in men’s singles at the Europeans are Maxim Kovtun, Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov (first, third and fourth at the Russian Nationals). Asked about this particular decision, of not sending Plushenko to compete in Budapest, by a journalist from Sovsport.ru, Alexei Mishin stated: “This decision was made at my request. The Board [of the Russian Federation] agreed with my arguments that the preparations for the season started late and now we have to work to increase endurance”.
According to the Voice of Russia, the federation top executives and experts will name the athletes to represent Russia at the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi upon completion of the European Championships.
Russian representatives at the 2014 Europeans in Budapest
Men: Maxim Kovtun, Sergei Voronov, Konstantin Menshov
Ladies: Adelina Sotnikova, Julia Lipnitskaia, Aleona Leonova
Ice Dance: Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov, Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin, Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko
Pairs: Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov, Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov