"International Figure Skating" January/February 2004

St.Petersburg, Russia - for two time World Men's Champion Evgeni Plushenko, the biggest wildcard this season isn't the ISU's new Code of Points judging system. It's his right knee.

"I'm not healthy, for sure,' said the 21-years old Russian shortly after winning his first Grand Prix event of the season, Skate Canada. "I'm not skating as well as last year, because I have all the time problems with my knee and sometimes with my back. My doctors in Russia say I will need an operation on my (right) meniscus next summer. But that is in the future.

"Right now, my knee is a little bit better than it was two months ago," he added. "So I'm okay with my skating, but I know it's not my best."

Plushenko traveled to Skate Canada with one of his doctors in tow.

"After all of the practices, we do massage," he explained. "I will have to do this all season."

Skate Canada also marked the retirement of Plushenko's long-time rival, Alexei Yagudin, from the eligible ranks. The 2002 Olympic gold medallist and four-time World Champion said his goodbyes with a special performance skated after the competition's official exhibition.

"Yagudin is a great guy and a great skater. Maybe we were not best friends, but I will miss competing against him," said Plushenko. "Of course, I have a lot of other competition now, guys like Takeshi (Honda) and Timothy (Goebel), so life goes on."

The knee problems pestered Plushenko throughout the summer, which he spent training at both his home rink in St.Petersburg and a camp in Spain run by coach Alexei Mishin. "There, he was joined by Swiss champion Stephane Lambiel as well as skaters from Italy and Romania.

"It was a real international group. I enjoyed getting to know everyone. We worked but we also had fun," said Plushenko, who cites tennis, billiards and paint ball as his favorite off-ice activities. "Sometimes last summer I practiced the quad salchow and lutz, and a quad-quad combo. If my knee gets better, it will be great for me."

Plushenko and Mishin worked with a host of choreographers on two new programs for the 2003-04 season; a short program set to tango and flamenco music and a free program they've titled "Tribute to Nijinsky".

"We worked with many, many choreographers in Russia, a lot of guys. Most of them are ballet dancers and teachers," said Plushenko. "They give me ideas on how I should present. But I feel the music on my own. I listen to them and then I make up my own mind."

"It was Mishin's idea to turn to the early 20th-century ballet master Nijinsky for inspiration.

"A long time ago, Nijinsky was the best ballet dancer ever," Plushenko noted. "When we were in Spain, my coach said, 'Maybe we can make a new program with the moves Nijinsky used to do.' At first I laughed and said, 'How is this possible?' But then we read his biography and some other books, and studied old photographs. It is a really tough program for me to skate, because the moves are new to me." One thing Plushenko is not troubled by is the new judging system.

"You get one mark for spins, another for your skating skills, another for presentation," he said. "So skaters will try to show much better spins, jumps, presentation and steps. I feel confident with it. I know I will score well."

At home in St.Petersburg, Plushenko recently took on a new project.

"I just bought a new house for me, my parents (Tatiana and Victor) and my dogs to live in," he said. "After the competitions, it will be nice to come home to everybody, play with my dogs and just relax."



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