Russia's skating legend Evgeny Plushenko pulled out of the Olympics moments before he was due to begin his short programme in the men's figure skating competition, and announced shortly afterwards that he was retiring from the sport, the Guardian reported.
"I am sorry for my fans and for everybody, but I tried till the end," said Plushenko, 31, who has battled multiple injuries. "I almost cried. It's hard, believe me. This is not how I wanted to end my career. I am very disappointed. But I tried to do my best."
Plushenko, a huge crowd favourite, was competing at his fourth Olympics. His controversial inclusion in the team came after he was second in the Russian national championship, which was won by an up-and-coming 18-year-old skater, but was included for the Olympics after a hastily arranged audition behind closed doors.
Plushenko danced as part of the new team skating event earlier in the Games, coming first among the men to help propel the Russians to a gold medal, aided by the skating of 15-year-old sensation Yulia Lipnitskaya. He was later personally congratulated by President Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday night, the crowd were primed for another big performance from Plushenko, and cheered wildly as he skated onto the ice. He appeared to be waiting until the last minute to decide, sipping from a water bottle before skating out, holding his hands on his spine. Instead of starting his routine, however, he skated to the judges, conferred with them for several seconds, and then an announcement came over the loudspeaker that he was withdrawing due to injury.
Plushenko was pipped to the gold in Vancouver four years ago and was so upset he made himself a "platinum medal" to compensate. His coach asked journalists not to be too harsh on the skater: "Don't criticise him too much, try to say something positive," said Alexei Mishin, before the skater emerged to face the press.
Plushenko he had fallen in the warm-up and felt it "like a knife in my back" and simply could not go on. He said he would retire after a career that saw him win medals at four Olympics - gold in 2006, silver in 2002 and 2010, and gold at the Sochi team event.