Olympic Champion Evgeni Plushenko Has
Two Words For His Rivals: 'I▓m Back'
By Kathleen Bangs
The man with one of the most impressive figure skating resumes ever has decided he▓s not ready to stop winning. Evgeni Plushenko already has two Olympic medals - one gold and one silver - in addition to three World titles, five European Championship crowns and seven national titles. His 2006 Torino Olympics win made history as he overwhelmed the entire men▓s field with a crushing 27-point final margin of victory.
And yet, the 24-year-old from St. Petersburg wants more. His federation also wants more, and to that end the two powerhouses have struck a deal. Plushenko begins training in August, and the Russian federation will support his competitive endeavors under an arrangement that remains, like so many things in Russia, murky at best.
Will he return this season for the money, the fame, or simply the intoxicating adrenaline rush that can only come from competing? Evgeni Plushenko gives IFS the answer.
IFS: I can▓t help but notice the long gashes on your arm and the back of your hand. You just got back from a few days of vacation. What happened?
Plushenko: During the break I went to meet with some friends in Florida. To stay in shape, I like to go running in the evening. After that I decided to go for a swim, but a man tried to stop me saying there was a storm surge. I said, "That▓s okay, I▓ll be fine." I was a pretty good swimmer growing up in Russia because preparing for the competitive seasons, we swam a lot. So, I went in from the beach, and started to swim out into the water but really not that far from shore. All of a sudden I encountered a riptide, and I could not get back to shore. I was scared.
IFS: What did you do?
Plushenko: (Laughs) Just swim, swim, swim! And then as I finally got close to shore, I was trying to get out but the waves were pushing me down into the coral and the rocks. My friends were watching me on the shore, but they didn▓t jump in. That▓s okay. It▓s painful actually (pointing to the wounds), but it▓s getting better.
IFS: Have you really committed to returning to competition?
Plushenko: Two days ago I made this decision. For sure.
IFS: So what made it happen?
Plushenko: You know, I have everything: money, medals, work. But I think I would like to still try and accomplish more, and I think I can do it. I want to skate and I want to see how powerful I am. If I win, that▓s going to be awesome. If I lose, I have next season and the one after that before the major important event, the 2010 Olympic Games. I would like to be the two-time Olympic champion. Besides, who else has a silver and gold medal? Even if I only win bronze then I have the complete set. I have a friend, Alexei Zhamnov, a Russian hockey player who played in the NHL for many years, mostly for Philadelphia where he was a team captain. He is an Olympic gold, silver, and bronze medalist. I talked with him and he said, "Evgeni, you have two Olympic titles: gold and silver. You need bronze? No. Better gold." (laughing)
IFS: If you▓re looking long-term towards Vancouver, then why not save yourself from possible injury, and instead ramp up to eligible condition in 2009?
Plushenko: If you remember, for example, the 1994 Olympic Games: [Kurt] Browning, [Victor] Petrenko and [Brian] Boitano all came back and did not make the podium. I would prefer to get back in the game earlier, before the Olympic season, to remember the feeling of competition. Shows are easy; shows are fun. I need the adrenaline of competing. I don▓t really care about being in the news, and if I do a good job, I will be anyway.
IFS: Who do you see at this point as your competition?
Plushenko: Maybe some new people, maybe. Who knows?
IFS: You were in the audience last year at the Grand Prix Series Cup of Russia when Brian Joubert landed three quads in his free skate.
Plushenko: I was there.
IFS: And you congratulated him after.
Plushenko: Of course.
Plushenko: That▓s b.s. I never said that. I watched the competition and he made three quadruple jumps, and also a triple Axel. But he did not beat me by his scores (laughing) so why would I say that? I came to him and said, "Brian, you did a good job and I think this is the best season of your career!"
IFS: Then I▓ll ask it this way: besides yourself, who do you think is the best skater in the world right now?
Plushenko: [Brian] Joubert, Stephane Lambiel, Daisuke Takahashi. I like how Johnny Weir skates, and Evan Lysacek is getting better and better. During the practices he reels off quad jumps like this (snaps his fingers).
IFS: Golden Ice of Stradivari is the new Russian figure skating tour you▓ve created. What▓s it like to now run your own show?
Plushenko: The name, Golden Ice of Stradivari, comes from my partnership with the violinist Edvin Marton (from Hungary) who for many years has created the music for my programs. He will also create both my new long and short programs for this competitive season. But my tour▓s shows are not just classical figure skating. The shows are live music, plus figure skating, plus acrobats, plus extreme skating. It▓s not just Russian skaters, we have an international cast. Already we▓ve done over 20 shows this year, including performances in Latvia and Estonia. We▓re going to Prague, and I▓d personally like to take my tour to Japan.
There are a huge amount of details that must be attended to for a tour to operate successfully. I would never say that I do this tour alone, but I do bring a lot of ideas. I really like doing this kind of business. I have a big group of people that help to prepare and operate the tour, including of my course my longtime agent and tour manager Ari Zakarian. It▓s new for me and so far I really enjoy everything about running a tour from discussing what music to use, to finding hotels for the skaters, and preparing the busses.
IFS: What one thing did you learn specifically from your many years of touring that you try to incorporate into your own?
Plushenko: To be the nice person. Like if you have a personal or business problem, don▓t go to your clients with this problem, or to the skaters. Just conduct your business with your partners professionally, and be nice like a regular person.
IFS: Were you able to get sponsors?
Plushenko: Yes. We have a juice sponsor or partner called Tonus, and also a tea sponsor called Dilma.
Plushenko: Yes, we shot a TV commercial for them in India that broadcasts in Russia. The trip took about five days because it took a long time by air and car just to get there. It seemed to be the rainy season. They put me in the field, surrounded by tea, and the idea is that I▓m meditating, thinking about the figure skating jump and winning gold.
IFS: Are they going to make a special Plushenko blend? Say, "Golden Calm?"
Plushenko: I think so. They have said they would like to work together more.
IFS: The Russian celebrity figure skating TV show that you hosted, called "Stars on Ice," was No. 1 in the ratings back home. It was so successful that its producer, Ilia Auverbukh, is already planning the second season for later this year. Are you going to be a part of it?
Plushenko: Last year I was the host, with Irina Slutskaya, and I really liked it. They wanted to sign me again, but I won▓t be able to. I▓m going to compete this season, and I need to focus my energies on the sport, and not on a show.
IFS: What▓s it like working with the show▓s creator, and your tour rival, Ilia Auverbukh?
Plushenko: No idea. I worked with the TV network, First Channel. Ilia was always working with the skaters and the stars, and my job as host was with First Channel. My contract was signed with the owners of that channel, not Ilia Auverbukh.
IFS: A similar concept was tried in the United States (called "Skating With Celebrities"), but wasn▓t picked up for a second season. Besides the fantastic sets, why do you think your show was such a phenomenon? And why did it beat the similar concept show starring Evgeni Platov, Alexei Urmanov and Artur Dmitriev?
Plushenko: That program was on 2nd Channel, and it was also a great program. I know the owner of that station too. I like all of those skaters - they▓re good guys. But the concept of this show was a little different and the ratings tell the story. But in terms of the success of both shows you can▓t overlook Russia▓s dominance at last year▓s Olympics. We won three gold medals, and one bronze. That makes skating huge in my country. If the same thing happened in America, probably the arenas would be full too. Right now figure skating is bad business in the U.S. Everybody knows this. At home it▓s different, and in Japan because of Shizuka Arakawa.
IFS: How often are you doing the big jumps, the quads and triple Axels?
Plushenko: Sometimes at practice I jump the quad.
IFS: What▓s your weight right now?
Plushenko: Right now I▓m a little bit big, about 175 pounds.
IFS: And when you compete you▓d like to be at what weight?
Plushenko: (Big laugh) That▓s a secret! But okay, I need to lose some.
IFS: At the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002, what was the pressure like to go into your very first Olympics as one of the two skaters heavily favored to win, head to head against your longtime rival Alexei Yagudin, and then crash to the ice on your opening jump?
Plushenko: I think for that moment Alexei needed more than me to get an Olympic gold medal. At that moment, I lost the Olympics and second or third place to me means losing. For me, I need just first place. But I think he needed it more than me, and he skated for that moment very, very good. I think things went wrong for me way before that jump. We came to the Games too early. We went to a place in America, in the mountains near Salt Lake City, to acclimate to the altitude for one week, and then we also arrived one week early to Salt Lake. It was too much, too much for the mind. But now I▓m happy (laughs) because I have both silver and gold.
IFS: Some called your stunning victory at Torino more of a "coronation" than a competition. What was that experience like compared to Salt Lake?
Plushenko: I had good memories of Torino before the Olympics even happened. I competed in Torino the first time in 2005 when I won the European Championships, and I skated very well. The Olympic events were held in the same arena, so it was good to have a victory there before the Games.
IFS: Tell the truth. Knowing that the Torino Olympics were just one year in the future, did you for even a brief moment stand on that ice imagining what it would be like to be crowned Olympic champion?
Plushenko: No. Because in Salt Lake City I did that. I skated around at the practices thinking about the podium, about being at the top. In Minneapolis, at my first World Championships in 1998, I did the same stuff. At the practice I did everything - two quads, everything! And I was only 15 years old. After the short program I was second and had skated clean in a field that included Todd Eldredge and Alexei Yagudin. I thought, "Wow! I can be first. I feel it, I can win this." Then I came back to the hotel, and lay down to sleep, but I couldn▓t stop my mind from thinking of winning. That was a big mistake, and I learned - never again.
When I came to Torino for the Winter Games it was like coming home. I already knew the ice, and the arena. I knew where the dressing rooms were, where the warming up area was, everything. That▓s really important. And I said to myself, "Just skate clean. Concentrate and skate clean." In the short program I did everything I needed to. For the long program, I decided with my coach Alexei Mishin to skate it without pressure, to skate without huge artistic choreography, and instead concentrate on the technical elements. And I did. When I took my final position, I said, "That▓s it." To the audience, and to the cameras I said, "That▓s it."
IFS: And later that night did you feel like this big weight was finally off your back?
Plushenko: I felt empty. I had wanted it for so long. I kept asking myself, "What next?"
IFS: Is that why you▓re returning to competition?
Plushenko: It▓s because I▓m 24. I can still skate. Money? It▓s just paper. When you work just for the money, it▓s unfulfilling. I▓m a sportsman, but I▓m also an artist, a dancer and I want to do something more in figure skating for myself and for my country.
IFS: Your son, Egor (pronounced "Yay▓-gor"), turned 1 year old June 15. How is he doing?
Plushenko: Egor is good. He▓s growing up and after the tour I▓ll be spending more time with him. He▓s cute, and he▓s very active - already walking. He has blond hair and blue eyes but looks like both me and his mom. He▓s definitely not quiet. Because of my work I haven▓t been able to spend a lot of time with him, and as you know I don▓t have a good relationship with my wife.
IFS: When will your divorce be final?
Plushenko: The divorce is in process and I think within one or two months it will be done.
IFS: Did you have a feeling that you might be making a mistake when you got married, or were you just happy and in love?
Plushenko: You know, for that moment I thought in my mind that it was going to work. And when we started to plan for a baby and she announced that she was pregnant, I really thought it was going to be okay. That▓s life, it▓s hard. Maybe I▓m young, but I don▓t think too young to know. I like to be a father, and have a family. I think she loved me, but it▓s hard to know everything because I like to believe the best. I also like to act on my own ideas, from my own mind.
But she seemed always involved with what her father wanted, and what he told her to do. I had to say, "I▓m married to you Maria, not to your father." There are things that are perhaps secret, at least for now. Many things happened that I did not like. I have just started on my autobiography and probably I will talk about those things for the book, as time passes.
IFS: It appears you have a girlfriend. I▓m sure more than a few of your fans would like to know your status; if you▓re available so to speak?
IFS: There was quite a mess the past few months surrounding the Olympic gold medalist pairs team of Tatiana Tatmianina and Maxim Marininin and their various broken tour contracts, including one with you. Has it come down to a lawsuit?
Plushenko: Yes. What they have now are big problems. There are not a lot of producers in the figure skating world, and everybody understands that you don▓t break contracts and expect to maintain your reputation. It▓s not right. They had a big contract with my tour for 30 shows, and 24 shows with Champions on Ice. I think in the future producers will take this into consideration. Both times they broke the contract to skate with Ilia Auverbukh▓s Ice Symphony tour. Of course, for them Auverbukh is paying good money and no taxes. But if you like to work in the future, you should think beyond today. I think they made a huge mistake.
IFS: What is your relationship with Tatmianina and Marininin at this point?
Plushenko: I don▓t care about them. But, I think that Maxim, as the man in that partnership, should be strong enough to say something and work together as a team. She▓s the one making the decisions, all the time.
IFS: Overall, do you prefer the current Code of Points judging or the former 6.0 system?
Plushenko: I like both. I like that we get separate points for jumps, steps, skating skills and so on. But maybe it needs a little work to make it easier for the audience. Nobody understands it. Maybe they could instead grade, for example, things like skating skills so that it would show as 5.8 or 5.9, and the same for steps and jumps. A way to combine both would use the best of the point system, and yet return to some elements of the 6.0 system, making it simpler for the audience to understand.
IFS: What was your biggest ever disaster on the ice, and conversely, if you could leave only one performance behind to forever represent your skating, which one would it be?
Plushenko: 2000 Worlds in Nice, France, was my worst ever. It came the year before I won my first World Championship. If people could remember me by only one program I would choose "Tosca," as I skated it for the Olympic short program.
IFS: Besides riptides, is there anything you▓re afraid of?
IFS: Considering you were just bleeding in the ocean, you have good reason.
тнрнюкэанл : пегскэрюрш : яяшкйх
тнпсл : цняребюъ