MOSCOW, January 27 (R-Sport) – Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko on Sunday acknowledged that sending figure skater Evgeny Plushenko to the Sochi Olympics is a risk, but with a potentially golden payoff.
The Turin Olympic champion and two-time silver medalist was given the team’s only spot in the individual competition earlier this week despite not competing at elite events for over a year and being beset by back and knee injuries.
He needed a behind-closed-doors performance in front of Russian selectors to convince them he was still the strongest candidate, despite Sergei Voronov winning silver last week at the European championships and 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun being seen as the country's next great hope.
“It is only pragmatism. I personally asked Evgeny to prepare for the Olympics two years ago,” Mutko said. “Then, Maxim Kovtun started to grow and did enormous work to get to the Grand Prix [Finals]. But what is better? Just to go and give a worthy performance or to risk it and taste the champagne? So Evgeny Plushenko is going to the Olympics.”
Mutko also added Kovtun has a bright career in front of him and “will tear everyone to shreds in the future.”
Plushenko will also feature at the team event that starts a day before the opening ceremony, with the medal-deciding individual free program set for February 14.
Seven-time European champion Plushenko, who lost out to Evan Lysacek in the battle for Vancouver gold, has been struggling with back injuries for the last two seasons, and last competed in an elite international event when he withdrew hurt from the 2013 European championships, over a year ago.
He did, however, win the minor Volvo Open event in Riga, Latvia, in November.