Today in Sochi, veteran Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko took the ice in the team skating event. At 31, Plushenko is old for a skater, and the Russian announcers made sure to mention that, over the course of his career, he has had 13 surgeries. His health was so precarious, in fact, that his participation in the Olympics was not decided until very late in the game: according to his coach, Plushenko "still had screws in his back" and the jumps were hard to pull off. Plushenko had to convince Russian skating to let him have the sole men's spot on the team behind closed doors, in true Russian fashion.
On the ice today, he skated a solid performance and placed second, even if his jumps were a little shaky.
Plushenko will be an interesting figure to watch in the coming days, especially if you consider his Olympic history: part of the rationale for choosing Plushenko to represent Russia at Sochi was that he could win Russia a gold medal. The problem with that is that, at the last winter Olympics, in Vancouver, Plushenko failed to win one and it was a stinging, stinging loss: it was the very first time that Russia failed to win gold in the event since 1960.
The other problem—and here's why you'll want to watch Plushenko in the coming days—was the way he handled the loss four years ago.
Plushenko got silver but it was not good enough for him, and he let everyone know. On the podium, he stood with his head down. Then, in an interview, he slammed the gold medal winner, American Evan Lysacek. "I was positive that I won," Plushenko said. "But I saw that [gold winner] Evan [Lysacek] needs a medal more than I do. Maybe because I already have one." He publicly blamed his loss—which, again, was an Olympic silver medal—on a ticket-sales conspiracy, which makes no sense, since tickets are sold before the medals are handed out.
He couldn't calm down. "I'm not prepared to skate well and lose," he told one interviewer, pointing out that his reaction was mirrored in his wife's. "My emotions were in my wife's eyes," he said at the time. "She was no longer crying, but her eyes were red with tears."
The good citizens of St. Petersburg, where Plushenko has lived since he was a teenager and where he served in the local parliament, offered to make him a gold medal. Vladimir Putin tried to soothe him, saying officially, "Your silver is worth gold." It didn't work.
Plushenko was still pissed. And soon, his grief turned into denial. On his website, he announced that he had handed himself a platinum medal, one he designed himself. "Silver of Salt Lake, Gold of Torino, Platinum of Vancouver," he wrote on his official site.
Then, when then-president Dmitry Medvedev rewarded Russian Olympians with gold, silver, and bronze cars on their return to Russia, Plushenko continued to whine. As I wrote at the time, this is how it went down after Plushenko was handed keys to his new silver Audi:
At the ceremony, Plushenko approached Medvedev and began to complain about how none of the money allotted for training figure skaters makes it through, that he pays for all his training and costumes and sparkly gloves himself, that figure skaters “are treated like floor rags,” and that the money now slated for his training—around $30,000 per year—was an insultingly unrealistic figure.
“I know that a huge amount of money is budgeted for this, but what happens to it is unclear,” Plushenko said to the President. “Dmitry Antaloyevich”—reverently using the boss’s patronymic— “please, bring this under control, because a lot of us want to perform. And I want to perform in Sochi in 2014. This is insane.”
Then, because a speedskater and volleyball player once had their Olympic automotive bacon heisted, Plushenko wasted no time and traded in his Audi Q5 for something less flashy the very same day.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Evgeni Plushenko. If I were you, I'd keep my eyes peeled for more of his antics, if he only gets silver.