Meet the man guiding Yevgeny Plushenko to greatness

"NBCOlympics.com " January 2006

Twelve years ago, an unknown figure skater moved from Volgograd, Russia, to St. Petersburg to train under well-known coach Aleksei Mishin. The Russian master already had such talents as future Olympic gold medalists Aleksei Urmanov (1994) and Alexei Yagudin (2002) under his helm, but he saw something special in Yevgeny Plushenko. Today, under Mishin's guidance, Plushenko is the favorite for gold in Torino. Mishin talks to NBCOlympics.com about his latest star pupil, the men's skating elite and issues surrounding the sport.

- How does Plushenko compare to the past Olympic champions you've trained, Urmanov and Yagudin?

- I had three outstanding stars like Urmanov, Yagudin and Plushenko. And I'd like to tell you that they have just very few similarities, but why? I have a special comparison. If you will start to compare unique diamonds, all of them are completely different. Unique diamonds are different, unique talents are also different. Urmanov was the most elegant. Yagudin was the most powerful, physically and mentally. And Plushenko may be unique because he's able to play the role of Sex Bomb and role of Albinoni's Adagio. Not one of my skaters, and maybe few other skaters in the world, are able to play such a wide range of roles.

- How are they alike?

- The skaters are similar in that all of them were born talented and all of them have the conditions you need to be a superstar. We have many stars, but Urmanov, Yagudin and Plushenko, they are kind of superstars. What these conditions are, I have three points: you should be born talented, you should be in the hands of an experienced and educated coach, and you should have condition. For conditions, you should be in the atmosphere that can teach you, around other skaters that can influence you.

-Who influenced Plushenko as a young skater?

- When Plushenko was a young kid with a big nose, at about 11 years old, he was already skating around Urmanov and Yagudin, as well as former European and university champions. Plushenko was very lucky to have been in this group of skaters.

- How has Plushenko changed since taking silver at the 2002 Salt Lake Games behind Yagudin?

- Maybe something changed in his mind, because the Olympics is such a serious influence, but he's still young in the mind. He's still trying to find the different roles, different personality, different styles of skating. Last year, for example, he did a new program of "The Godfather." He chooses a role and he follows it. So maybe mentally he becomes more angry.

- How difficult was it for Plushenko to withdraw (with injury) from the 2005 World Championships in Moscow after the short program?

- For us, it was a very hard decision but we supposed that the health of the skater was more important than a medal ... future more important than today. Our goal was to use all possibilities to compete. But before the short (program) he got a shot. The pain left, but he told me that he felt like he was in space, because the shot was very strong and is usually used on animals. This was the only medicine that was possible to use that wasn't against the doping control. After that he got some itches on his chest and inflammation of the corners of the lips and his temperature rose.

- How would you describe Plushenko's personality off the ice?

- Two styles of behaviors he has with two different groups of people. During his skating life, he took a lot of criticism and a lot of not logical criticism from the press. When he started to become a star I told him, "Listen, no interviews during the competition. Keep the invisible curtains to save your energy." Because he's starting to become very famous, with 15-year-old girls he is nearly at the top of the world, he tries to use curtains between him and people he doesn't know and that he doesn't trust. He's very, very open and he's very, very friendly with people in his family, with me, with the choreographer that's a friend of ours, so he's completely different ... He's very supportive. He supports his mother and father, his sister. He supports friends. He supports me a lot. He has a warm heart for his family and not too open for the other people.

- How would you describe Plushenko's popularity in Russia?

- His popularity in Russia is so big that we went to the theater, for example, and five minutes before the spectacle we appear and we're going to sit in the second row and the crowds start to form. Every competition people scream, "Plushenko, Plushenko, look Plushenko!" and give him stuff to sign. So with stuff like that, he spends all of his energy, so he tries to be a little bit far from all of this.

- What are your thoughts on figure skating's new scoring system?

- Something positive, something negative. Negative is it's not worked out in the details ... some details are very ticklish. History will tells us if it was good or if it was bad. Now, if you are married, try to love your wife. No choice to be divorced, so love her.



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