Sochi: Two-time gold medallist Yvegeny Plushenko dramatically withdrew from the Sochi Olympics with a back injury on Thursday just before he was due to compete in the men`s figure skating short programme.
"Yevgeny Plushenko is not taking part in the competition due to injury," said the Iceberg stadium arena announcer to a stunned crowd.
The 31-year-old had taken to the ice for the six-minute warm-up before the start of the men`s competition where he was bidding to become the first man to win five Olympic figure skating medals after already helping his team to gold.
But with two minutes, 25 seconds to go, he tried a triple axel and stumbled out of it.
The 2006 Olympic champion, and two-time silver medallist, then skated around the rink holding his back before trying the jump again, and again stumbling out of it.
Plushenko, who was the first up to skate in his group, went over to the referee Mona Jonsson shaking his head.
It was then announced that he was withdrawing from the competition.
He then bowed and waved to spectators as he left the rink to muted applause from the stunned and deflated crowd.
Going through the mixed zone, the three-time world champion said he would not talk until he had seen a doctor but had told his coach Alexei Mishin "I landed and it (the back) went."
Mishin told journalists: "I know that the morning after the free skate (of the team event) the (Russian figure skating) federation should have made a change, but at that time he was OK.
"We didn`t do anything that wasn`t fair play. At the end of the free skating (in the team event) he was feeling unsure. I have worked with him for 20 years. We have had lots of success.
"This is one incident in 20 years when he was not successful. Please be positive to him and respect him."
Asked if Plushenko would compete in another Olympics, Mishin quipped: "Not an Olympics, maybe a Paralympics."
There had been reports the veteran could pull out on medical grounds after complaining of back pain after helping Russia to their first gold of the Games in the new team event.
"First I have to rest and talk to the doctors, perhaps implant some more stuff into my back," said Plushenko, after the team event.
Team gold in Sochi was the second Olympic title for Plushenko who had won the men`s event at the 2006 Turin Olympics. He was also a two-time silver medallist, in 2002 and 2010.
Another medal would have put him ahead of Swede Gillis Grafstroem as the most medalled man in Olympic figure skating. Grafstroem won four figure skating medals -- three in gold -- between 1920 and 1932.
He underwent back surgery last year, the latest in twelve operations Plushenko said he had endured over the years on his back and knees.
As Russia have only one men`s berth in Sochi the possibility of substituting Plushenko had been a contentious issue and would only have been allowed on medical grounds.
The deadline for replacing injured skaters passed at 1000 a.m. local time (0600GMT) on Monday.
If he had withdrawn earlier another Russian skater could have taken his place.
The skater himself had suggested after finishing second at the nationals behind Maxim Kovtum, 18, he might withdraw after the team event to allow up-and-coming competitors a chance to win a medal.
His wife and main cheerleader and promoter Yana Rudkovskaya tweeted: "It is not possible to fight both the opponents and the pain! He has already brought his country an Olympic gold medal! Four medals and four Games. He is a legend!"
Kovtun flopped at the Europeans and Plushenko sealed his berth in a skate in front of Russian officials last month and was handed the spot at his fourth Olympics.
Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada is now favourite for to win the title along with Japan`s Yuzuru Hanyu.