With a toss of his golden hair, Evgeni Plushenko held his finger to his lips in an outrageous, predictably unsuccessful attempt to hush the crowd.
They screamed even louder. As if he didn’t know they would.
As he skated to his final flourish, flowers rained down from the stands and didn’t stop coming.
The Russian figure skater’s back is held together with screws, he is riddled with injuries new and old, his knees are shot, he’s barely competed for two years and he won his Olympic berth through an unusual closed-door tryout after losing the national championships.
Never mind. He’s not one of the world’s most recognised figure skaters for nothing.
Out there on the ice he spun, leapt, pranced and posed his way to a Russian gold medal in the team competition, his routine balletic, graceful, showy and just on that fine line between pride and braggadocio.
Even Vladimir Putin allowed himself a quiet smile.
This is how Russia’s Olympics were supposed to go.
Plushenko is a showman. On Thursday he complained the crowd’s chants were so loud they left him “shocked and dizzy”.
On Sunday the “Russ-si-ya, Russ-si ya” was even louder, but his spins were precise and his gaze level, his pout intact.
Plushenko is a love-him-or-hate-him figure. The modern sports fan is ok with ego, but Plushenko always goes one step further.
For example, his free skate is a ‘greatest hits’ compilation made especially for him, titled ‘Best of Plushenko’ – a medley of music from previous medalled performances.
He has a reputation as a sore loser. In Vancouver, where Russia’s figure skating team failed to get a single gold medal for the first time in 50 years, he stood with his head down on the silver medal podium and afterwards blamed the judges for getting the scores wrong, because of some sort of conspiracy to do with ticket sales.
“Your silver is worth gold,” Putin reassured him. It wasn’t good enough, so on his website he awarded himself a platinum medal that he designed himself, and reportedly complained to president Dmitry Medvedev that figure skaters were “treated like floor rags” and he wasn’t paid enough (just after being given a new silver Audi).
Luckily, then, on Sunday he didn’t lose.
“I love being first,” he said afterwards, giving himself a B-plus and revealing that two planned triple salchows had turned into doubles because of pain in his back. He said he was nervous, and promised a better performance in the singles competition beginning on Thursday.
Many commentators doubt that he’ll hold together for four programs across nine days. But Sunday’s performance showed that this is a man drawn to, and lifted up by the bright lights of Sochi’s Ice Palace.