SOCHI, Russia — From wild cheers to stunned silence, the Sochi Olympics said goodbye Thursday to one of figure skating’s all-time greats.
Evgeni Plushenko, the first figure skater in the modern era to win medals in four Olympics, retired from competitive figure skating shortly after withdrawing from the men’s competition for medical reasons. The Russian said he injured himself during practice on Wednesday, then fell on a triple axel during warmups Thursday.
When Plushenko limped out of the arena, the cheering stopped, eventually turning into mild applause.
Plushenko’s announcement came hours after an Olympic worker was injured when he was hit by a bobsled near the finish line at the Sanki Sliding Center. He was taken by helicopter to a local hospital.
Six medals were awarded on Day 7 of the Olympics: in slopestyle skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, speedskating, short track speedskating and luge.
In the first final of the day, the U.S. freestyle skiers swept the podium in slopestyle, with Joss Christensen leading the way in his Olympic debut. Germany completed a sweep of the four luge events by winning the team relay; Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, skiing with a fractured foot, won gold in the women’s cross-country 10-kilometer classical race; and Li Jianrou of China won gold in 500-meter short track speedskating after all three of her opponents in the final fell.
The 31-year-old Plushenko is the only modern-era figure skater to win medals in four different Olympics. He helped Russia win the team gold over the weekend. He also won figure skating gold in 2006 and silver in 2002 and 2010. Plushenko said he said it felt “like a knife in my back” when he fell on a triple axel during Thursday’s warmups.
In the short program, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan led with a score of 101.45 The competition concludes Friday with the short program.
For only the third time in Winter Games history, a U.S. team swept the podium. Christensen led the way with a dominating performance that featured four near-perfect runs over the rails and jumps at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper captured the silver and bronze, as the U.S. skiers matched the country’s previous sweeps in men’s figure skating in 1956 and men’s halfpipe snowboarding in 2002. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends,” Christensen said. “America, we did it.”
The United States defeated Slovakia 7-1 and Russia topped Slovenia 5-2 in preliminary rounds of the men’s ice hockey competition, setting the stage for the two powers to battle on Saturday. Also, Canada defeated Norway 3-1 and Finland beat Austria 8-4. In the women’s tournament, Germany defeated Japan 4-0 and Russia beat Sweden 3-1.
Kowalczyk led virtually all the way, finishing in 28 minutes, 17.8 seconds and beating silver medalist Charlotte Kalla of Sweden by 18.4 seconds. Therese Johaug of Norway took bronze, 28.3 seconds behind.
Li’s win in the 500 keeps the Olympic title with China. Injured teammate Wang Meng couldn’t defend the title she has won at every Winter Games since 2002. Arianna Fontana of Italy took the silver and Park Seung-hi of South Korea earned the bronze. Elise Christie of Britain caused the first crash of the wild final and was disqualified.
In the women’s 1,000-meter race, Zhang Hong pulled off a stunning victory to give China its first gold ever in Olympic speedskating. Her time of 1 minute, 14.02 seconds, broke the track record and just missed the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Games. Ireen Wust took the silver and Margo Boer the bronze, giving the Dutch a dozen speedskating medals.
Martin Fourcade of France earned his second gold of the Sochi Games with a victory in the men’s 20-kilometer individual race. Fourcade, who won the 12.5K pursuit on Monday, finished 12.2 seconds ahead of silver medalist Erik Lesser of Germany. Yevgeny Garanichev of Russia won the bronze.
Germany scored a golden sweep of all four luge events by winning the inaugural team relay. Felix Loch, Natalie Geisenberger and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt finished their runs in 2 minutes, 45.649 seconds, beating Russia for the title by 1.030 seconds. Latvia won the bronze.
Gold medal favorites Canada, Sweden and Britain posted wins in the men’s curling tournament, keeping the pressure on undefeated China, which had a bye Thursday. In the women’s competition, Canada swept away its fifth straight opponent, while Sweden knocked Switzerland from the ranks of the undefeated. Britain revived its chances of making the semifinals with a win over China.
Lizzy Yarnold of Britain and Noelle Pinkus-Pace grabbed the top two spots midway through the women’s skeleton competition. The final two runs for the gold are Friday.