SOCHI, Russia — From wild cheers to stunned silence, the Sochi Olympics said goodbye Thursday to one of figure skating’s all-time greats.
Evgeni Plushenko, the first figure skater in the modern era to win medals in four Olympics, retired from competitive figure skating shortly after withdrawing from the men’s competition for medical reasons. The Russian said he injured himself during practice on Wednesday, then fell on a triple axel during warmups Thursday.
When Plushenko limped out of the arena, the cheering stopped, eventually turning into mild applause.
The 31-year-old Plushenko is the only modern-era figure skater to win medals in four different Olympics. He helped Russia win the team gold over the weekend. He also won figure skating gold in 2006 and silver in 2002 and 2010. Plushenko said he said it felt “like a knife in my back” when he fell on a triple axel during Thursday’s warmups.
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“I think it’s God saying, ‘Evgeni, enough, enough with skating,’ ” said Plushenko.
The United States defeated Slovakia 7-1 and Russia topped Slovenia 5-2 in preliminary rounds of the men’s ice hockey competition, setting the stage for the two powers to battle on Saturday.
The Americans scored six unanswered goals in the second period alone, a relentless attack that felt like it might never end.
And now comes the real fun. While Slovakia offered little resistance, Team USA will encounter an entirely different challenge Saturday when it faces Olympic host Russia in its second game. The U.S. won’t see many friendly faces in the crowd that night.
“We think it’s special to play the host city,” Team USA forward Dustin Brown said. “We had an opportunity to play Canada in Vancouver in 2010. Those are the type of games you want to be in. You want to play the host team. It’s obviously going to be a tough match. But it’s a tough, fun game to play in because of the atmosphere and excitement around the arena.”
Also, Canada defeated Norway 3-1 and Finland beat Austria 8-4.
In the women’s tournament, Germany defeated Japan 4-0 and Russia beat Sweden 3-1.
J.R. Celski of Federal Way and his U.S. short-track speedskating teammates survived a wild crash in the 5,000-meter relay semifinals to advance to next week’s final, where they have an improved chance of winning a medal because of the misfortune of the top two teams.
The U.S. skaters had to wait after crossing the finish line last of four teams to find out whether the referee would rule in their favor. He did, deciding upon video review that South Korea’s Ho-Suk Lee interfered with American Eduardo Alvarez when Alvarez tried to pass.
“The moments between the fall and the call, there was a lot of doubt and just disbelief that we didn’t make it into the final,” said J.R. Celski, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist from Federal Way.
South Korea, silver medalist in 2010, was disqualified and the United States was waved onward to the Feb. 21 showdown. Defending gold medalist Canada crashed out in the other semifinal.
Without 2006 Olympic champ South Korea, the final will be without the two favorites.