15 February 2014

Lessons from the Retirement of Evgeni Plushchenko

Sub Tuum. 

Those watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi (or at least the figure skating portions) are doubtless aware that famed Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushchenko not only retired from competition as planned, but withdrew from the men's individual competition moments before he was to skate. He was apparently experiencing severe pain due to old injuries for which he had surgery. The crowd rose to its feet as he left the ice, but the reception from the Russian people overall was about as frigid as a Siberian winter.

The claims were many. Some say he choked because he didn't think he could beat the Japanese skater who won the gold medal. Some say he just physically wimped out. Others claimed he never should have been in the Olympics in the first place due to his prior injuries. It is far easier to shout advice or criticism from the cover of the sidelines than to risk defeat at the point of attack. While only Plushchenko knows the reason for certain, the reason probably was the obvious fact he was in severe pain. In any case, it was his decision to make, and he made it. 

At 31, he is old for a high-level competitive figure skater. He is known not only for his brilliant artistry in performance, but also for his incredible strength and jumping ability. These feats of strength were not without their toll. As Plushchenko himself said, he is a normal person and not a robot. Injuries from years of competition resulted in several operations, including on his spine (the old injury that apparently caused his withdrawal from the competition). Prior to the Sochi Games, he already had three medals, one gold and two silver. In the first part of the Sochi Games, he helped to propel Russia to a team gold medal. That he could accomplish this at his age and with all his physical problems that he had to overcome is an inspiration. Yet, some say he should have quit after the last Olympics or, even better, after the one before that, where he won his gold medal. That might be true if the only purpose is to "go out on top" and be popular. I like to think it is about more than that. It is about overcoming challenges, ignoring the naysayers, and developing and using one's God-given talents to show the highest capabilities of one of God's greatest creations, the human body. It is about being willing to try to accomplish something great, even at risk of failure. And, yes, it is even about having the maturity to know when to quit; not when to quit based on accolades or public acclaim, but based on one's self. 

The unfortunate thing is that this discussion would not even be necessary had he been able to skate in the competition, and especially if he had at least won a medal. How unfortunate that the public is so fickle. How unfortunate that so many people live vicariously through others rather than being in sympathy with their fellow man. As for me, all I can do is be thankfully for having been able to witness a truly great artist and athlete via a television screen and wish him blessings and best wishes in his retirement from skating competition and in the next phase of his life.