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Sochi 2014: Was injured Evgeni Plushenko told to compete by Russian skating federation?

February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Evgeni Plushenko tells CNN he was told to skate despite suffering from a back injury
  • Russian pulled out from the men's individual competition before he was due to skate the short program
  • Skater then backtracks: "I want to make clear that the federation put no pressure on me"
  • Plushenko made his Olympic debut in Salt Lake City in 2002

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(CNN) -- The golden boy of Russian Winter Olympic sports Evgeni Plushenko is at the center of a whodunnit mystery in Sochi.

Was the four-time Olympian told to compete by the Russian skating federation despite suffering from a back problem?

The 31-year-old pulled out of the men's individual competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace because of the injury, on which he has had multiple operations -- just before he was due to skate the short program. Earlier in the Games, he helped Russia to team gold.

In an interview with CNN's Amanda Davies, Plushenko said officials had asked him to skate, despite the potential risk and that he had offered to give up the one space eligible in the competition to Russia to a fellow athlete.

Asked in a question if he had been forced to skate, Plushenko replied: "That's right," adding that he had wanted to compete but that he simply couldn't.

"I tried," he told CNN. "When we came to the team event everybody understands, OK we can win silver or bronze. We came first and won the Olympic Games. So after that the federation says: 'OK do you want to skate, how do feel?'

"Well, I feel not so good. I feel a problem in the long program of the team event, I missed two jumps -- a triple salko and a triple loop.

"I feel the muscles are sore. I explained to my federation, that maybe somebody else is going to skate. I asked them. They said ... well, what happened, happened."

Shortly after, the 31-year-old announced his retirement from skating.

National tragedy

Plushenko's story has read like a national tragedy in the Russian media, and he said the answers to questions over his pullout would eventually come from the president of Russia's figure skating federation Alexander Gorshkov.

The federation was not immediately available for comment.

"I'm not able to say right now what happened," said Plushenko.

"If you ask the president of the Russian federation, he's going to explain everything. He's going to explain why I tried to skate, why I didn't skate against the other skaters."

Later on Monday, Plushenko backtracked on the version of events he gave in the CNN interview.

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"I want to make clear that the federation put no pressure on me," Plushenko said in a statement posted on the website of the Russian figure skating federation, citing his poor English for the confusion over the reasons for his withdrawal.

"I don't speak English fluently so my answers could have been incorrectly interpreted. I also could not always understand the sense and nuance of the questions," he said.

In an interview with Russia's Sovietsky Sport on Saturday, Plushenko said he had offered to step back in favor of Maxim Kovtun after the team competition but the 18-year-old was nowhere to be found and turned out to be unwell.

"They did not find him immediately and then it turned out that he was ill. And they told me, 'You can carry on skating'. I tried to do everything for the country, for the sport," he told Sovietsky Sport.

So, Russia had no representation in the men's individual competition.

Plushenko's wife Yana Rudkovskaya has become involved in the controversy, criticizing journalists for writing "rubbish" about her husband, who is due to see a specialist about his back after the Winter Olympics.

"Stop putting pressure on Yevgeny and all his family, it's already simply impossible," she said.

Rudkovskaya's intervention followed criticism of Plushenko from the likes of triple Olympic gold medalist and pro-Kremlin lawmaker Irina Rodnina, and outspoken lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- who told state television: "Kovtun is shoved aside while this invalid has brought shame on us."

Plushenko made his Olympic debut at Salt Lake City in 2002, winning silver, before taking gold in Turin four years later and picking up another silver in Vancouver in 2010.

Gay rights

Meanwhile the skater also hinted he could use his prominent position to help change Russia's approach to gay rights.

Russian lawmakers' passage last year of legislation known as the anti-gay propaganda bill makes it illegal to discuss homosexuality in front of children.

Plushenko insisted, "It's not my job," when asked about the current law but added:

"Maybe I can change something. If I can do something I am open. I know many people who are not traditional orientation. Maybe I can help, maybe not. We'll see, we're going to work in this direction."

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