SOCHI, Russia -- Figure skating outdid itself Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace. Within a half hour during the early stages of the men's short program, a relatively simple sporting event turned into a Frank Capra movie. Or perhaps it was Mel Brooks. Or a little of both.
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It all began with Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko, the winner of two Olympic gold and two Olympic silver medals. Within no more than five minutes, the following happened to him:
He appeared to re-injure his surgically repaired back while warming up a triple axel, took the ice gingerly for his short program anyway, skated over to the referee, had a short conversation, withdrew from the competition, waved to the stunned crowd and patted his heart as he left the ice. And then, at 31, immediately retired from the sport.
There was no topping that, but American Jeremy Abbott tried.
Move ahead four skaters to Abbott, the man who bombed in the team event but still won an Olympic bronze medal. He was back doing the same program that he had such trouble with exactly a week ago, and sure enough, he made the same opening mistake.
He crashed hard to the ice on his quadruple toe loop, just as he had in the team event. But instead of getting up, this time, he ran into the cushioned boards beside the ice and remained prone, his right hip in pain.
He lay on the ice as his music kept playing and the seconds kept ticking on the scoreboard clock, about 10 in all, which seemed like an eternity. His coach, Yuka Sato, standing just a few feet away on the other side of the boards -- as luck would have it right where he fell -- was so concerned when Abbott didn't pop back up that she started to jiggle the door to the ice to come out and see what was wrong.
But just then, Abbott, a four-time U.S. national champion who has terrible trouble with his nerves at major international competitions, pulled himself up. And then the most amazing thing happened:
He kept skating.
"I was in a lot of pain," he said later, holding a bag of ice on his hip. "And then I was laying there, kind of shocked and I didn't know what to think. Then I thought, 'Okay, how much pain am I in? Can I keep going?' I was waiting for my music to stop and that didn't happen. 'Do I go to the referee? What do I do?'
"The second I stood up and all of the audience was screaming, I was like, 'Forget it all, I'm finishing this program, I don't care if I'm two minutes late, I don't care what happens with the rest of this, I'm going start to finish and I'm not going to give up on this program.' "
He caught up with his music and put almost all of his required footwork and other elements into his program, which was a minor miracle, and ended up, amazingly enough, in 15th place when all was said and done.
It wasn't where he expected to be, but considering the circumstances, it wasn't bad at all.
Speaking of not being where you thought you'd be, Plushenko was last seen surrounded by a gaggle of Russian journalists, his skates off for good, explaining his sad news, over and over again.
"I think it's God saying, 'Evgeni, enough. Enough to skate. You did a lot of figure skating.' "
Just not quite as much as he had hoped.
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