EVGENI PLUSHENKO, OLYMPIC CHAMPION TALKS ABOUT HIS FAME, FAMILY AND LIFE ON THE ROAD
By Kathleen Bangs
Is he ready to give up the glory of competition forever?
IFS: You▓re the first singles skater to win Olympic gold under the new judging system. Your performance was so technically superb that even all of your top challengers admitted after the short program that the best they could hope for was to duel for second. Yet, Russia is used to having their men bring home Olympic gold - the previous five champions have all been Russian or Soviet. What was it like when you returned to Russia?
Plushenko: Right away the next morning after the men▓s Olympic free skate I went back to Russia. By 6 a.m. my coach, Alexei Mishin, and I were already out of Torino and on our way to the airport. We got into the much-publicized car accident and I have to say - it was a big crash, and we were very lucky. Nobody died, nobody was even bleeding in our car, but others were not so lucky in the fog that morning and sadly others suffered injuries. When I arrived home in St. Petersburg I was ecstatic. There was a frenzy of media, probably a group of 50 to 60, especially many with television cameras, waiting for me at the airport. There was so much noise, and so much screaming, that I was in a little bit of a shock. But, it was a great feeling. I had this huge job to do, one that I had trained and worked and planned so long for, and finally - it was complete.
IFS: Last June you married - almost one year now. Already you expect your first child, due in just a couple of weeks?
Plushenko: Yes, in June I will be a father, and I▓m so happy about that. I will have a new child, and a new life - and new people will join our family. It was a great feeling when I first met my wife and then later married. I know people questioned my judgment, saying, "What is he doing?" or "Why get married during the Olympic year?" but obviously my results show that this was a wise decision and that my wife has been only an inspiration - and not a distraction - for me.
IFS: In America, new parents-to-be often find out the sex of their child before the birth, tell everyone they can, and even hold parties before the babies birth where the name and sex is announced well ahead of time. I▓m going to guess things are different in Russia?
Plushenko: Well, (laughing) I can▓t speak for everyone in Russia, but yes - it▓s different for us. My wife and I do know the sex of the baby, but we▓re superstitious, so we will not tell. Actually, I don▓t care if it is a boy or a girl though, because my dream is to have a lot of kids. At 23 that may seem young, but in this life I already have every material thing I need and I believe I▓m ready to be a good father, and I▓m ready to take care of my wife, Maria.
IFS: In the U.S., we have not had a men▓s figure skater "superstar" - someone on a par with Michelle Kwan - for quite sometime, although Johnny Weir has certainly spiced things up and drawn enormous media attention. In Russia you truly are a superstar. Describe your fame back home.
Plushenko: It was about five years that I started to become a star, where people began recognizing me out in public and away from figure skating events. Now? It▓s simply amazing. I cannot walk down the street without people knowing it▓s me. They always stop and ask for a signature [autograph]) or a few photos. Not everyone of course, but I would guess that probably 80 percent of the population recognizes me. In Russia I do a lot of interviews with the newspapers, appear on TV shows, take part in commercials, etc. I love that my countrymen get to see me, and I hope that I have contributed at least a small part to the wave of popularity that figure skating once again enjoys in Russia.
IFS: Obviously you are not nearly so well known in the U.S. Does this affect you when you spend time over here, mainly when on tour?
Plushenko: I▓ll tell you that when I skate on tour in the U.S. everybody claps. The American people who are also fans of the sport know who I am, and they appreciate my skating. That▓s also a good feeling.
IFS: Right now by touring in the U.S., you▓re missing taking part in the biggest Russian tour called Ice Symphony. Alexei Yagudin has said candidly that he would really enjoy putting together some pro events or shows with you, and that the draw for fans to once again see both of you share the ice would definitely attract audiences in a number of countries.
Plushenko: We shall see if it will happen, but I have to agree with him that it would be interesting to many fans. In the future I would like to make a new tour - my own tour -or a kind of Champions on Ice in Russia. Right now it▓s difficult as I don▓t have so much time to plan or coordinate something of this size, but I▓m looking forward to doing that.
IFS: The Russian Ice Symphony tour, run by former world ice dance champion Ilia Auverbukh, has quickly become very successful with not only audiences but also with sponsors. Any chance we will see you on Ilia▓s next tour?
Plushenko: Maybe, maybe not. I don▓t know yet. I really would like to operate my own tour and have it be more than just figure skating. It would be more like the Swiss Art On Ice shows that have musicians, singers and actors. Those are the style of shows I would like to recreate.
IFS: The popularity of ice shows in the US has steadily decreased the last few years. What do you think we should do to attract new audiences the way the Russian shows have?
Plushenko: Business is always cyclical. It goes up, and it goes down. Business is still good on the Champions on Ice tour, not the best ever, but still good. Of course, it▓s not like it was in ▓94 or ▓97-98, or even 2000 for that matter, but still good. I▓ve never even (laughs) seen a Stars On Ice show, but I think we need maybe a different system - one that is more entertainment. Some people say there aren▓t enough big stars in America but that▓s not true - you have Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, and now Kimmie Meissner. She▓s young, but maybe soon she will be like them. I also think that Johnny Weir could be a big star. He▓s a great skater, very powerful and so good artistically - he is a true artist. I like him, but for him to get to the top he will need to do the quad jump. I tell him this and he understands. He says, "Yes, yes, I will work even harder and next season I will do it." But, we never practice together, so only he knows.
IFS: Do you think an American man can finally snap the Russian winning streak and take gold at 2010 Vancouver?
Plushenko: Russian men continue to dominate because we have a very powerful tradition and also because of our great coaches. It▓s hard to explain why we win all of the time, but I will try. It▓s because inside we are different. It▓s difficult to convey, but it▓s as if we have a fire inside that will either consume us, or work for us. We like to work, and we have a need to win - it▓s a feeling we have - and it▓s very strong.
IFS: Audiences and fans are not ready to stop cheering for you in the arena of competition. Can you make your fans happy - and your rivals depressed - by telling us that you will continue?
Plushenko: For the coming season I have made up my mind to not compete. However, I think there is a chance I will come back after that. Next season I will not be skating amateurs, but I still hope to be very visible doing exhibitions and tours. After that time, maybe. We▓ll see.
Plushenko: I would like to be two-time Olympic champion. How and when I will decide is still open. First, I need to be healthy to compete. Winning - and (laughing) I like to win - favors the healthy athlete. Soon I will have a baby, and recently I won the Olympics. I▓ve also endured many injuries and even surgeries. So much has happened, it would be nice to just take a bit of a time out and enjoy my new family.
IFS: You have an unusual relationship with your longtime coach Alexei Mishin. Unusual in that, at least to the public, it appears that you always follow his advice and always do as you▓re told. For a skater at such a high level, that seems rare. Unlike another Russian Olympic champion who was also Mishin▓s student, you have a father who stayed with your family. Yet, unlike with that other skater, Mishin became a sort of second father to you.
Plushenko: In regard to Alexei Mishin, of course I have my own father, Victor, whom I love. He has supported me my whole life. I have my coach who is also a kind of father, and someone who has been there my whole life as a skater. We have been together through the years of training, at the competitions, the seminars, the travel - everything. I know my coach very well as we▓ve worked together for 12 years. Alexei Mishin is a kind of father. I love my dad though, he▓s a great guy, and he understands everything about my situation. He also likes Alexei Mishin. You could say we are like one big family, a family of good friends.
IFS: And you have always been the perfect son? Surely there must have been at least one time you really disobeyed Mishin?
Plushenko: I was quite young, around 11 or 12. Already I was having knee problems and one day at the rink - we were training in Italy - I complained to him and said that I was in such pain that I could not skate. He said, "Okay. Go back to the apartment and take a rest and get some sleep. I▓ll see you tomorrow." I said, "Sure, see you later." Then (laughing) Alexei Yagudin came. He said, "Let▓s go play football." I was a kid, so what do you think I did? Of course, I started to play football, or soccer as you call it. After only 10 minutes Mishin came by and he got rather upset saying, "I told you to go home!" I said, "Okay, we▓re done, I▓m leaving." Then, Mishin left. We still kept playing. Five minutes later, Mishin came back again, now only this time he was really angry. He grabbed my shoulder and dragged me to the bus, yelling, "You don▓t understand what you▓re doing! You▓re going to really injure your knee." When he first started to reach for me, I tried to block him with my right hand and in the process broke my finger.
IFS: Which finger did he break?
Plushenko: (Laughing) My middle finger.
IFS: Did you tell your parents?
IFS: And if you compete, will he still be at your side?
IFS: What does a workaholic like you do with a day off?
Plushenko: A typical day for me to relax would be to go on a trip, preferably with my family. Even when in St. Petersburg if I have the time I like to go to my other house outside of the city and barbecue. I like to bring my Bulldog, and I also have a small Yorkie. Sometimes I take a four-wheeler and ride out into the forest. When I▓m in the city my wife and I enjoy going out for dinner to quiet places, especially for good Sushi and to Japanese restaurants. We don▓t spend much time at discos or clubs.
IFS: Would you like to sometime take part in our new "Adventures Off Ice" series?
Plushenko: I would like that. I have never tried snowboarding and I would be all open for that.
IFS: You are very close with some of the other skaters?
Plushenko: Yes, my best friends are Alexei Polishchuk (ice acrobat), Alexander Abt, and also Vakhtang Murvanidze and Roman Kostomarov.
IFS: How about some of the guys you are supposedly "not so friendly" with? Why do you think the media tries to portray you and Brian Joubert always as rivals and never as friendly competitors?
Plushenko: I don▓t know, because I don▓t like hassles and fights and drama. When I competed with Todd Eldredge, Elvis Stojko, Alexei Urmanov - you name it - we kept it friendly. Many times before a competition Elvis would shake my hand and wish me good luck. I appreciated that. I do not have skaters as enemies, and I like to have friends. You can fight on the ice, but why fight off of it? I say fight with your jumps, your spins, your steps and your performance. I don▓t fight with Joubert. I▓m a little bit older in the sport of skating than he is, and you know, I understand. He likes to be first, he likes to win, and he wants to win. He▓s a good guy, so I don▓t understand when people say that we do not get along.
IFS: If you could compete professionally in any other sport, would it be hockey or soccer?
Plushenko: Soccer! There are so many teams I like, but I have to pick the local team Zenith as my favorite. I have a lot of friends from there, including my good friend Alexander. But there are also some really great Spanish teams - Real Madrid - and of course Liverpool▓s Manchester United is another favorite.
IFS: And the position you would most desire to play is?
IFS: The position you▓d least want to play?
IFS: Why, no glory?
Plushenko: (Laughing) Exactly.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Evgeni Plushenko and Johnny Weir will be featured on the cover of the July/August 2006 issue of IFS. They are the subject of the cover story, which includes a photo shoot, taken during the Champions on Ice tour earlier this month. In the United States, IFS is sold in most Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores. In Canada, IFS is sold in Indigo bookstores. In addition, you can email our circulation/customer service department by filling out the form at:
Single issues and subscriptions can be purchased from IFS through our Boston Customer Service Department via the link above or by phone at 800-437-5828 or at 617-536-0121, and by mail at:
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