SOCHI 2014 FEBRUARY 14, 2014
Remember how yesterday Evgeni Plushenko pulled out of the Olympics just before the men's skating competition was to begin? The world saw images of a hobbling, pain-pinched Plushenko missing his jumps in practice, his wife predicted catastrophe and his trainer predicted paralysis should he get on the ice again: Plushenko recently had surgery that put several screws in his back and, the wife and coach said, he had reinjured himself again in practice.
Well, today, we get news that Plushenko has no plans to cancel a rather intensive skating tour across Russia, called "The Champions and Friends Show." It starts in two weeks and has Plushenko skating for Russian audiences every other day: 15 shows in March, 13 shows in April, and, says his website, "more shows to come!"
According to his agent, this issue was no longer that Plushenko was a bad jump away from paralysis, but that he simply had not had enough time to recover from the team competition. "A lot of people now think that Evgeni is sick, that he is broken," his agent said. "That's not the case. He just withdrew from the singles tournament. It happens. He's not made out of steel. If he'd had a bit more time, I think that everything would have turned out differently."
How are you a hair's breath away from vegetablehood and two weeks later, spunky and ready to go on a grueling cross-country ice dancing tour? Maybe there are some sports medicine experts who can explain this to me, but from where I sit, the math just ain't coming together.
I'll add one more thing, though: I wrote yesterday that Plushenko's very presence at the Games was proof of how corrupt the Russian system in its every manifestation, even the athletic one. Plushenko, despite his precarious health, talked his way onto the Russian Olympic skating team in closed-door meetings. Talked, not skated. (Plushenko is a talented skater, but he's one hell of a diva and, during the 2010 Olymipcs in Vancouver, his public ranting and whining and complaining were virtually all I wrote about.) But Plushenko is also one of a coterie of athletes and artists that are loyal Kremlin hacks, understanding that, these days, there is pretty much only one side of the bread that's buttered in Russia. These athletes and artists perform at official functions, they support the Kremlin line when needed, and, as a result, are wealthy, privileged people, existing in a plane far above the rest of their countrymen—and, often, the law.
When Vladimir Putin came down from the stands to congratulate the victorious Russian skating team this weekend, most of the skaters were all silent, grateful smiles. Not so Plushenko. "Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich," he said. "Thank you for giving us these Olympics." Vladimir Vladimirovich, in turn, thanked Plushenko as "Zhenya," the familiar, shortened version of Evgeni. And now, since he's one of their own, the Kremlin has publicly said that it will put its elite clinics at Plushenko's disposal. "The level of our sports medicine is very high," said a high-ranking member of the Putin administration.
Perhaps that explains why Plushenko will be able to go on tour so soon—and rake in the money.
New Republic Senior Editor Julia Ioffe will be writing dispatches from Russia for the duration of the Olympics. For the entire collection of her pieces, click here.