“I am normal people like you, I am not robot.”
From any other Olympic athlete, this sentiment would’ve been a throwaway line about the fallibility of the human body. But for Russia figure skating superstar Evgeni Plushenko, it was more like gallows humor. After 12 back surgeries that eventually required 50,000 tiny bolts to be inserted into his spine, the jokes about him being the $6 Million Dollar Man were probably beginning to wear thin.
The good (OK, not remotely good) news is that he’ll now be able to put all the cyborg rumors to rest by broadcasting his next surgical operation live online.
At 31, Plushenko is practically geriatric by the standards of competitive figure skating, but was still determined to return to the Olympics for a fourth and final time this year. This required him to do a certain amount of political maneuvering, but once he got to Sochi, he was instrumental in winning Russia’s gold medal in the figure skating team event. Unfortunately, when it came to the men’s singles competition where he had medaled at his previous three Olympics, he fell short.
During the public warm-up session just seconds before he was scheduled to compete, Plushenko reawakened an old back injury that had him doubled over in pain. The Russian audience at Sochi’s Iceberg Stadium watched in stunned and worried silence. In a later interview, he said that by the time he skated over to the judges to pull out of the competition, he couldn’t feel his legs. A 13th round of back surgery seemed inevitable.
On Monday, Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency reported that Plushenko’s next operation would be on March 2 and that Plushenko was inviting the world to watch. The surgery will be to replace a broken bolt from one of his artificial intervertebral plates.
“Many people will see it because I want to show them how it happens,” Plushenko said, adding, “Good thing it ended this way because I could have been left paralyzed.”
Only Evgeni Plushenko would rate “not ending up paralyzed” as a worthwhile outcome after forcing his body through 12 surgeries and the intense rigor of a fourth Olympic Games. He is nothing if not determined.
Incredibly, Plushenko told Russian state television last week that he “wasn’t ruling out” competing at the 2018 Olympics, saying, “Here’s what I want to do: Recover completely, and if necessary do another 10 operations.”
For his own sake, let’s hope that he was kidding.
Photo via Niklas / Flickr