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Plushenko withdrawal illustrates need for alternate system in skating

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  February 13, 2014 04:17 PM

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Watching Evgeni Plushenko pull out of the Olympics moments before his short program was stunning. It doesn't happen often in this sport. To see a skater glide over to the judging table and tell the referee "I can't go" means it has to be bad, really bad.

I remember that night in Lake Placid that Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner had to pull the plug. Randy was dealing with a groin injury. He couldn't land a jump in warm up, and it would have been unsafe for him to lift his partner over his head.

It was 1980. Tai and Randy were the favorites to win gold in an event that had been dominated by the Russians for 20 years. It was heartbreaking to watch this young team surrender their dream.

Back then, athletes didn't hang around for three or four Olympics. Most skaters only got one shot. Tai and Randy never got another chance, even though they were so young by today's standards.

Plushenko has won Olympic gold, and a couple silvers. I wonder why this 31-year-old was out there anyway. Russian president Vladimir Putin was there to shake his hand when Russia won the team event.

Who knew that just a few days later Russia's only hope in the men's individual would pull up lame? And what about the 18-year-old skater who won the Russian national championship? Where is he right now?

I think Olympic skating needs an "alternate" system that allows an athlete to take the place of a countryman who can't compete. Just have him or her "in the building" at the ready if someone can't go.

Most sports go to the bench when this happens. In football, it's called next man in. In hockey, there is a backup goaltender ready to jump in.

Why can't skating subs get a chance? Alternates will get a few minutes to warm up, the music will be in the system, and off they go.

A star is born.

Minutes after Plushenko left the ice, forever, American Jeremy Abbott crashed into the end boards after falling on a quad jump. Abbott looked like he was down for count. He wasn't getting up. It was awful to watch.

The crowd was chanting for him to get up. Abbott's coaches were about to go out and scrape their skater off the ice. Then miraculously Abbott got up and finished the program cleanly.

I have never seen anything like it. Abbott will not win a medal. Who cares. His Olympic moment will go down in history as one of the best examples ever of fight and perseverance.

Parents, teachers, and coaches will be using Abbott's story when they talk about what it really means to be a competitor.

I hope Jeremy Abbott has the skate of his life in the free skate. He deserves it.

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