"Sport-Express" April 17, 2007
By Elena Vaitsehovskaya

2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko announced his strong intention to return to ISU competition to the Associated Press in Richmond this Tuesday.


The results demonstrated by Russians at this year's international events forced him to make this decision, the figure skater said. "I think my return will bring Russian figure skating back to its accustomed place at the top of the pedestal. Now I feel that I am completely able to be competitive in Vancouver in 2010," Plushenko explained his announcement.

To take this announcement completely confidently as one that is final and unlikely to change is not possible due to the fact that in all their interviews Plushenko and his coach Aleksei Mishin include a "but": Plushenko will return if sponsors are found that can sufficiently finance the Olympic champion and all the members of his team for the next three years.

The demand is actually a bit of a riddle. The figure skater and his coach have been receiving for more than a year the maximum monthly support of the Russian Olympians Support Fund - 150,000 rubles (5,000 euros). This information is not secret as the grant recipients and the amount they receive are listed on the official website of the fund. It can also be found there that his choreographer, the team doctor and masseur also receive grants (although in lesser amounts).

In other words, it is not completely legitimate to say that the Olympic champion would have to pay for his own preparations should he return to active competition. This means rather that he has the desire to receive a decent compensation for the so-called lost profit - i.e. the refusal of offers to participate in commercial and television projects, his own show and so on. This amount, as one might imagine, is a great deal more than the fixed 150,000 ruble stipend he currently receives.

The desire to ensure one's own financial well-being is understandable from a human perspective. Just it doesn't agree well with the expressed patriotic concern to defend the country's honor on the ice rink. And the more such things come out of Plushenko's mouth and get into the press, than the more likely one will want to put things a different way. Such as what we often see in newspaper adds: "I'll help. For a lot of money."

Theoretically, finding the necessary funds under the current interest to sport in the corporate world is not an unsolvable problem. But you have to understand that a sponsor is not a charitable patron. Probably such a sponsor will want certain guarantees the Plushenko will win all his tournaments, and particularly, Vancouver 2010. Otherwise, why build a fence for the garden?

It seems to me that whatever the case may be, RFSF's, Russian Sport Committee of somebody else's promotion of athletes' return to competition under undetermined financial conditions, comes across a bit preliminary. Even though I personally feel that Plushenko really does want to return to competition. The figure skater has enough popularity now, but sometimes you catch yourself thinking that it would be better if he didn't. An unsuccessful marriage, a business confliect with recent colleagues Tatyana Totmyanina and Maxim Marinin, unwise statements in a variety of interviews and other faux-paxs of his own PR company were so happily seized upon by the openly "yellow" tabloid press, that one would feel like sinking into a hole in the ground. Or return to one's regular routine where there is sincerity, love and worship (fandom).


The situation in which the Olympic champion finds himself is not new. Many worldname athletes have decided to try to win another Olympics after a break. For example, in 1993 a whole star collection of figure skaters returned. They included Olympic champions Brian Boitano, Kurt Browning (sic), Viktor Petrenko, Katarina Witt, Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Natalia Mishkutenkok and Artur Dmitriev. The successful reentry into their old waters was only attained by Gordeeva and Grinkov. Although nearly all of them believed they would succeed. But some did not manage to prepare, others could not manage to concentrate just on this goal, a third group became unaccustomed to competing and couldn't manage its nerves. The main thing is that after the 1994 Games nearly all the losers unanimously said, well, we didn't properly assess how much the competition had changed.

In comparison with the star galaxy, Plushenko has one inarguable plus - all 4 years until his victory in Turin, he had no equal in men's singles skating. Just as it was at the Games themselves. You cannot say that Evgeni didn't shed much blood for this victory - his previous season's injury was a factor, but everyone, including the skater himself, knew that there were two levels of skating. His and everyone else's. Therefore the temptation is great to believe that if Plushenko returns to the ice the competitive strength ratio will remain the same. In the undeniable favor of Russia.

But let us remember two other examples. Alexander Karelin and Aleksander Popov. All 4 years until the Games in Sydney 2000, they were both the inarguable leaders in their sports. The likelihood that either could lose seemed to their founds absolutely close to zero. But they both lost and shocked the country. With time, both Popov and Karelin evaluated their loss and came to the same conclusion about its cause: it wasn't worth it to scatter their strengths.

Popov (though he didn't nominate himself) got involved in the fight for the chair of Russian Swimming Federation, and Karelin entered politics. Both came to the Games as always. The time-tested, reliable preparations were not enough. It became clear that it is a colossal mistake to prepare for new competitions thinking that the level of competition is at it was before. You need to act in advance and keep setting a new level, and be ready to give up everything else for this aim.

Will Plushenko be able to voluntarily limit his world is something that even he does not knowyet. Theoretically there are no visible barriers to his return. He left with his coach for the Collins Tour that starts Friday and ends June 3rd. Mishin says this is to start work on new programs. Of course, one cannot talk about a serious training regimen during a tour, but certainly some ideas can be developed so that at the end of summer one can concentrate on serious work.

In his AP statement, Plushenko said that he is determined to participate in all the season's competitions, including the Grand Prix. The applications for these tournaments must be made by the beginning of the ISU council in San Francisco in early June. Even if Plushenko and Mishin cannot organize their plans by then, nothing terrible will happen. As RFSF president Valentin Piseev sadi, any country hosting the GP will gladly accept the Olympic champion even if they have to kick one of their own athletes off the participants' roster.

Plushenko's personal show "Golden Ice of Stradivari" is coming to an end and the project's continuation next year is not envisioned. In other words, there are no serious distractions that could disturb Evgeni from restoring his old skills and renewing his competitive activity, if you don't take into account his political activity in the City Hall of St. Petersburg. The athlete doesn't see a need to quit this post.


There is no reason to doubt the Russian figure skater's ability to restore the status quo on ISU ice - return to the leadership position, ceded to world champion Brian Joubert and 2-time world champion Stephan Lambiel. Plushenko's triple and quad skills are pretty reliable. He noted that he plans to include these elements regularly during the American tour. Evgeni can feel confident under the rules system because no new demands have been added during his absence. Moreover, the appearance of the Olympic champion in competition will give the starts that sense of freshness that judges love so much.

It is arguable whether Plushenko's superiority over his competitors will be so resounding as it was a year ago. After all, people are waiting for a nearly miraculous appearance - new image, unusual choreography and music, interesting choreography. It is a paradox that despite specialists' comments regarding Plushenko's tremendous talent and ability to do everything on the ice that his programs of recent years have been received as cookie-cutter. It is a secondary question - who is to blame? - the old-fashioned views on choreography of Aleksei Mishin, the choreographer David Avdish, or the once-too-many times music arranged by the famous Hungarian violinist Edwin Marton.

"Plushenko really can do a lot, but he is too used to doing the same movements and posturing that are comfortable for him. This is why any attempts to recommend him something unfamiliar are destined to destruction," one Russian choreographer, who had a chance to work with Evgeni before the Olympic Games told me.

In Turin Mishin intrigued journalists with the news that he and his students had prepared a completely special exhibition number, in which they were able to unite sports and patriotism. But this idea didn't really work. The composition "Russia" which the Olympic champion performed a few times in exhibition was met by the public without enthusiasm. His next program, in which he played an infant, who comes out to the ice in a carriage, simply resulted in the open disappointment of the fans. It lacked the main thing - quality jumps.

Only one thing is known about Plushenko's programs should he return to "big ice" - the music will once again by done by Marton.

When Evgeni just started to work with the violinist, the idea seemed practically genious: to combine in a program the mastery of a great musician and great figure skater. The fact that the violinist was willing to play the Stradivari for the winner for a prestigious international figure skating competition made it a unique cooperative venture. However, after three years of Marton's excessive activity in figure skating has led to the fact that the brilliant violinist is seen exclusively as a personal arranger for Plushenko and some other figure skaters willing to pay enough money for his services. The ability to rework all musical compositions so that they could ideally fit the required rules of skating's need for steps and spins is also an art, but the dreadful thing is that Marton has become "overplayed" in figure skating. Just too much. Especially in Russia after the full Plushenko tour with his participation - "Golden Ice of Stradivari".

Upon returning to sport, the main question that the coach and skater need to ask themselves is how to take a step to a completely new peak. "To kill" the competitors on the basis of difficulty alone won't work. The elements that nobody else can do are no longer in the skater's arsenal. The recent season confirmed it.

Moreover, the main threat for the Olympic champion may not come from his old, familiar rivals Joubert and Lambiel (although from them as well, naturally), but from younger and more aggressive ones. Like Czech Tomas Verner or Japanese Daisuke Takahashi. Time is working in their favor more than in Plushenko's. We're not talking about next season or even the pre-Olympic one. But that which starts in the autumn of 2009 and ends at the Games in Vancouver.

Translated by Maureen Diffley



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