Interview with Alexei Yagudin

Part 2

by Magdalena Osborne

You’ve been a pro skater for about six months now. Do you still feel the urge to compete?
Sometimes it’s still hard. I never expected the transition to pro skating to be so hard. But even with doing the same things for so many years, training and competing even if you’d like to do something else, it’s hard to change your life! I did want to compete but with the injury and surgery it all happened so fast and I realized how tired I was of eligible skating and that I wanted to do something in the professional world. Right now I still have a little something in my heart pushing me to go to Europeans and Worlds, but not enough to make me do it. I have done everything I can in eligible skating and I have a different view of my life and career now. I want to coach and do this tour and that’s what I’m doing!

What kind of future would you like to see for pro skating?
There are so many great athletes in pro skating right now, like Boitano, Kulik, Todd Eldredge, Elvis, so many ladies and pairs and there’s a group of us trying to organize some more pro events. In some ways pro skating is more interesting right now than eligible skating.

What can you tell us about your new programs for next season?
I have an idea to combine circus with skating. It won’t be like my old circus program, this isn’t circus music. In programs we just skate so now I want to do something really different. Last season I still wanted to compete so I didn’t have time to do anything really new, but next season the programs don’t have to be made for competitions. But one program will probably be more traditional.

In Russia, while you were still eligible, media seemed to be for Plushenko and against you, and they wrote some nasty things about you, calling you a traitor etc. Has this changed any since you turned pro?
No, and it will never change. The Russian press always has and always will be mean to me. Russia is one of the greatest nations in the world, I’m proud to be Russian and I love my country and the people, but I’m not happy with how the Russian federation has treated me. I would never have changed countries to skate for and of course not all Russians are against me, it’s mainly the media. I don’t understand it since I haven’t done anything wrong; all I’ve done is bring Russia a bunch of medals! I got a medal from the President but that was only because they had to give me one since I won the Olympics. I got no support from the Russian federation. Now I see how other federations support their skaters, especially the young ones, where Russia doesn’t. Brian and Frédéric get a lot of support from the French federation and I was a guest at the Japanese nationals and they really support their skaters too.
And the federation still owes me money from the bank crash but I might never get it, my mom is dealing with them from Europe. When some money came in Piseev told them to pay some other skaters but not me. Not having that money won’t break me but there are others who need it badly.

What is your greatest motivation for staying in the sport?
My love for the sport. I think we all do what we know the best and are capable of doing. I’m capable of doing this the best and I’ll keep skating until I can’t move.

What are your goals as a coach?

I don’t know if I’m any good yet. Good skaters don’t necessarily make good coaches but I want to try. Look at Tatiana, she wasn’t much of a skater, she began working at 18. It’s going to be hard and I’m glad I’m working with Tatiana because she’s been doing this for so long and she knows every single detail and I will keep asking her for advice.

Andrei won gold at Junior Worlds in Holland but you couldn’t be there with him and neither could Tatiana.
It was too bad forAndrei (Griazev), but such things happen. Elena Vodorezova is a friend of Tatiana’s and of mine too and while they were training in Moscow, Tatiana asked Elena to go with Andrei. Not having your coach present happened to me when I won Junior Worlds, Mishin was only there like one day. With or without a coach, as a skater you have to be strong and capable of doing max in any situation. And Andrei did pretty well! With me he lost the Junior grand prix final and without me he won Junior Worlds. But I thought he would win. I don’t think he was supposed to win in Sweden, he skated great but Evan Lysacek was a little bit stronger jumping wise.

How did Andrei end up in the Tarasova camp?
I guess the same way I ended up being with Tatiana... Mishin is putting all his energy to Evgeny, so if you are anyone but Evgeny in his group, you’re not really getting any attention. Each person in sports needs attention from their coaches. Andrei was coached by Mishin’s wife but when you’re in Mishin’s group you want to work with Mishin and not anyone else. Andrei wasn’t getting enough attention and Mishin wasn’t working with him, so Andrei actually wanted to quit skating altogether. His mom called me for help and I said I’d ask Tatiana. She thought about it and then agreed. I don’t know all the details; I just know he wasn’t getting enough attention.
My situation with Mishin was different. He worked better with Evgeny because he never complained, he never argued with Mishin while I always had my own thoughts about everything I did. I wasn’t giving him advice; I just asked why I should do things this way and why I should work on this when I need that. I left Mishin mainly because he was trying to put me under Plushenko.
In the (-98) Olympic season there was, in my opinion, no doubt that I would be on the Russian team for the Worlds. I had beaten Evgeny in the Russian nationals, I beat him at Europeans and I’d gone to the Olympics but Mishin still wanted to send Plushenko to the Worlds. People wrote a petition to the Russian federation saying that I should go because I was the European champion. Yes, I got sick at the Olympics and didn’t skate my best but such things happen. Mishin didn’t sign the petition, he was trying to put me under Plushenko and he brought Evgeny to Minneapolis in case something would happen. It did, Kulik withdrew so Evgeny got to compete anyway but I won my first Worlds that year.

Some have speculated that your main goal in coaching Brian is to beat Evgeny at the 2006 Olympics.
Whether Evgeny wins or loses, I don’t care! I did my part and I beat him when it really counted. As far as coaching Brian; the French federation called and asked if I would help him out and I laughed because I though it was a joke! But then they called back and I’d thought about it. I knew Brian a little because we both trained in Calgary for two weeks before the Olympics and I helped him a little there. I’d seen him at some shows and I knew he admired me as a skater and in some ways he even looked like me when I was younger... But they asked me to help him and I thought “why not?” because I really wanted to coach but I thought of the pressure too. He was already a good skater and it was a big responsibility. If he wins the next Olympics I’ll be more than happy and honestly, I was happy when he won Europeans! He deserved to win there and I was jumping for joy when I found out. My mom told me as she called after just about every skater.

You worked with Rudolf Zagaynov during the Olympic season. Could you consider hiring him to work with Brian and Andrei?
Maybe, why not? A sport psychologist is not for the insane, like some people said, but for support. It’s someone who really knows you. Many great athletes work with sports psychologists. Tatiana suggested we’d try and I’m happy we did. He helped me and he’s part of the victory. But I mainly won the Olympics because of my own work and because I wanted it so badly. The loss at the Goodwill Games early in that season was hard to take. Tatiana advised me not to go and told me I wasn’t consistent enough yet, but I wanted to go because I wanted to do something. I thought I was ready but I wasn’t. I wasn’t eating much and forced myself to train too hard. Zagaynov tried to understand me and what was bothering me in my life and he helped me to believe I could do it if I kept working. Nothing is impossible if you believe in it! I ran through my programs so many times there was no doubt in my head I could do it. It wasn’t like the year before when I was gambling with my jumps, maybe I could do them and maybe not.

Your students increase in popularity because of you. Does this surprise you?
I’m just doing my job! I’m hoping to go with Andrei to Junior Worlds. He will compete in the senior Grand prix and he needs to do more competitions. He’ll do the Finlandia Trophy and maybe Nebelhorn and others. His quad is coming. He has it but it’s not consistent enough yet and we’ll work on his jumps this summer. Maya Usova is making new programs for him right now, but I know how it works. They will make something and then Tatiana comes and changes everything. Andrei already has good spins and steps. For Brian it’s the opposite. His jumps are fine and he does a quad sal. But he needs to work on his basic skating. He has so much energy and stamina and he’s healthy! I was surprised because a Russian will do a quad, rest, another jump, rest and so on. But Brian does jumps, spins, steps, and then even more jumps late in the program, it’s very impressive!

What are your plans for Brian?
Brian will come to Simsbury at the end of May and we’ll make his new programs. We’re doing some shows in Japan in June and then we’ll come back together and keep working until the end of summer. I have some suggestions for music for his short and long programs. It’s music he hasn’t heard yet. I have different music for him to listen to for the short and for the long I pretty much know what it’ll be. I will work on the choreography also but with Tatiana’s help. She knows so much and I want to keep her as an advisor. But Brian’s coach will be there too so we’ll do this together.

How did those Japanese shows come about?
It’s the same kind of deal as last year, three shows in two days. People are crazy about figure skating in Japan, it’s so funny! And my book will be published there this fall and also in Russia. The Russian deal is already closed but I still don’t know about an English version. I’m a Russian in America, so it’s not so interesting for the publishers...

What is your role in training Brian compared to the role of Laurent Depouilly?
We plan and decide things together. We discuss everything and he usually agrees on everything I say and I agree on pretty much everything he says. There are differences in training though, the French never warm up and they’re always late, but we work well together.

Are you learning French?
Yes, but I’m a little stuck at the moment. I know numbers and the days of the week and different things but I lost the book so now all I have is the computer screen and it’s like – I give up! Well, no, and it’ll be easier once Brian is there. But his coach speaks perfect English so we have no problems communicating. With Brian it’s a little harder but I speak slower to him.

Are you planning on taking on more students?
Brian and Andrei are my priorities but I’ve also been asked to do some seminars this summer in Colorado and Montreal and I’m going to help Kimmie Meissner, the US junior champion. But I’m just getting started in coaching, it’s new to me and interesting but I can’t do everything at once. Last year I was still getting ready for competitions myself, but this year I’ll have more time and I want to spend the whole summer coaching.

You didn’t make it to the Worlds in Dortmund, what happened?
The producers of the show were afraid that if my plane back was delayed or cancelled, I might have been late for a show. Stars on Ice is not like Champions on Ice where I had only one number. I had 6 in this show and they didn’t want to risk me getting stuck somewhere and missing shows, and I can understand that. Sure I was disappointed, I wanted to help Brian and Andrei, but there was nothing I could do and we can’t always have things our way. I had some days off so I went to Florida to visit friends.

Were you disappointed Brian (Joubert) “only” got silver?
No, our goal was for him to get on the podium and I knew that would be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be that hard! My mom called me after just about every skater and said she had never seen a Worlds as hard as this one, so many of the men did quads! I’m glad the quality went up. The men were great and the ladies too, and the pairs. I don’t call ice dance a sport, but there was a fight in all disciplines. Brian did great to get silver! I was very happy the year I got bronze at Worlds. Now the season is over and we’ll work together this summer and next year we’ll go for the gold!

Most people expected Michelle or Sasha to win the ladies event, but Shizuka did, were you surprised?
In the ladies there are always surprises! We were making bets on the tour and my prediction was Michelle, Japanese, Japanese, since there are so many great Japanese ladies! Shizuka skated great and won and I’m so glad for Tatiana. I really admire Sasha too, I think she’s very talented.

Go to Part 3

*** Previously published by Europe on Ice

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