SOCHI, February 15 (R-Sport) – The 18-year-old Russian figure skater who missed out on a place at the Sochi Olympics only to see Evgeny Plushenko withdraw from the competition through injury harbors no grudge against the double Olympic champion.
Fears were high that Plushenko at 31 wasn't fit enough to skate both the team event and the individual. Those concerns proved valid after the Turin gold medalist pulled out after aggravating a back injury in the warm-up for the individual on Thursday.
Even so, Maxim Kovtun, who many felt had earned the right to go to Sochi after beating Plushenko at the Russian nationals in December, defended his more illustrious compatriot.
"Friends, thanks for your support and belief in me," Kovtun said on Twitter, finally breaking a daylong silence on the issue.
"Zhenya (Plushenko) did everything he could for a Russian victory! I congratulate our team," he wrote.
That was a reference to the gold medal that Plushenko helped to win in the new team event by finishing second in the short program and winning the free program on Sunday night, which turned out to be his last competitive appearance.
Plushenko announced his retirement almost immediately.
He has faced a wave of criticism for insisting he was OK to skate the individual event before pulling out. Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called him an "invalid" who shouldn't have been taken to the Games in the first place.
But President Vladimir Putin leapt to Plushenko's defense on Friday, saying he did the best he could under the circumstances.
"He performed in the team event and showed his best result," Putin said. "He really does have a big problem with his health; he has had several operations.”
Plushenko has had 12 operations on his back and knee since winning the silver in Vancouver four years ago.