During the 1997-98 season, Alexei Yagudin dominated the men's events winning the 1998 World Championship, the 1998 European Championship, Trophee Lalique, the Cup of Russia, Skate Israel and the Finlandia Trophy. Yagudin has moved up quickly, taking the 1997 Worlds bronze after winning the World Juniors in 1996. But he still hasn't won the Russian Nationals, moving up one place each year from fifth in 1995 to second in 1998. So he wasn't satisfied with the season. "My opinion is that I am too lazy. I need to work harder to be stronger. Last year at Worlds, I began to understand what I have to do. I understand the choreography a lot more. Now I can work with (coach Alexei) Mishin more to do different moves and better jumps."
Yagudin continued: "skaters like Tara Lipinski or Todd Eldredge skate through their entire programs 4-5 times in one session. In Russia, we don't do that. People think we train all the time but maybe the best system in real life is less training. I do about 45 minutes of ballet (which he started at about 5) or play a little football (soccer) before I train. Then I skate about three hours a day. I usually don't do any weight training. But last summer I did a lot of running alone in the mountains. There were only two Olympic spots and I wanted to look stronger."
At the Olympics, Yagudin took ill and finished fifth. "I was sick and skated badly. It was not so much fun, laying in bed sick. And there were so many people there I did not know. I like Worlds much better. There are so many good skaters there and all different, all good in their own way. I enjoy watching all of them," said Yagudin, who sat in the audience for most of the events in Minneapolis. Yagudin's health woes continued at Worlds when an intestinal illness hampered him, but he won the gold. "I did not skate as well as I hoped but I was lucky to win," he exclaimed afterwards.
Poor health actually brought Yagudin into skating. "My health was not good so my mother brought me to the rink to skate. I was about 4. I skate by myself because if you are a good skater you skate freestyle. If not as good, you skate pairs, then less good skate dance or become a coach. I like to jump. My favorites are the lutz, flip and the quad toe loop. But I have to work harder on the quad. It's not perfect. I want to do a quad axel. It's too hard during the season to learn new things, but maybe in the summer I will work on it."
This year, Yagudin used Russian gypsy music for the technical and "Pushkin Poems" by Alexander Sviridov for the free skate. "It's much better to skate to classical music. The marks are higher," he noted. "I listen to whatever my head wants to listen to when I'm not skating, but not classical." To relax, he said "I play tennis, football and pool, but not so often. Usually I sleep or lay in bed and watch television. I like comedies. I don't like to go out to theaters." But he does like to fish. On holiday, Alexei likes to go to southern Europe. "I went to Cyprus last summer. Maybe I'll go to some islands after the summer Tom Collins tour."
Yagudin, who speaks both Russian and English, continues to study at the Institute for Physical Culture in case he has to quit skating. "What if I broke my leg and didn't have anything else to do?," he said. "I'm not the best student, but I'm pretty good," he claimed. " But I don't have anything to do with computers. I don't like computers." So he hasn't seen any of the Yagudin web sites set up my his fans.
Yagudin plans to continue to skate through the 2002 Olympics, maybe even until 2006. He expects to change both programs for next year, but says it's a secret. For exhibitions, he wants to do something funny, but not like his tribal routine from 1996-97. "Not enough people understood the program," he said. "The best moment for me is at the end of the program. If I skated good, I feel good. But not many people applauded after that program."
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