Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005



Interview with Alexey Yagudin (AY) with a correspondent of the Russian Language publication Sport Express, Elena Vajtsehovskaya (EV) printed on May 28th, 2005.

The life of figure skating professionals working in the USA passes mostly outside the Russian public’s attention. But sometimes they come back. A few days back, the Olympic champion from Salt Lake City, Alexey Yagudin, returned back to Russia. And at once he dumbfounded his audience by stating: " I have returned for good!"

EV - You mean as in "forever?"

AY - I was going to depart for America at the end of May, and then decided to postpone my departure for a week. But the longer I stayed home, the more strongly I understood to what degree I have become homesick. And than I decided that I will not go anywhere until my work with “Stars on Ice” will start.

You can not imagine my pleasure at being able to just simply drive around the city or walk on the banks of Neva. I do not cease to be surprised by how many beautiful people there are in the city.

And in fact, they recognize me -- could you imagine that? In St. Petersburg, they recognize me! Recently, I was standing on the street, waiting for my cousin, and suddenly a man approached me. He said, "I look at you and I can not believe my eyes. Is it really you?" I was surprised. I have not visited St. Petersburg lately, and the Olympic Games were won a long time ago. It was pleasant.

I often visit with Anton Sikharulidze. When I came for the first time to his restaurant, Sphinx - he himself was out of town. But everyone started to smile and began to fuss around me. I visited that restaurant already five times, and like it there very much. Generally, it is considered a cafe-bar- the prices are low, but everything is very tasty, fresh, and comes in large portions. It is very cozy. Anton is trying to convince me to open my own business in St. Petersburg.

EV - I did not suspect that you and Anton were such good friends.
AY- Life put us together. While we were on the National team, we were never especially close friends. Even after the Olympics in Salt Lake City. When we began performing together in the “Stars on Ice” show, the nervous pressure was felt both by him and by me. And then we somehow calmed down. He changed very much, matured, and I did too. It was said that we even began skating differently. Somewhat less constricted.

EV- For some reason I thought, that, having finished your tour, you, as in the past, would go back to your coaching work in the USA.
AY - Probably I am simply very tired. On the one hand, coaching still strongly attracts me. But on the other, I can not force myself to go on a skating rink one extra time. To work at “Stars on Ice” is like working in hell. Even in comparison with any other tours. Although I do not jumps quads now, the load turned out to be not less than that of any amateur sportsman.

Since last October, I have not had any free weekends. Two times I participated in professional competitions – “Ice Wars” and “World Team Challenge.” I performed there the maximum triple jumps of which I am capable: loop, lutz, flip and toe-loop. In the first tournament (both were a team competition) the World team consisted of Kurt Browning, Yuka Sato, Oksana Bajul and myself. We won against Brian Boitano, Todd Eldredge, Kristi Yamaguchi and Nicole Bobek. In the second tournament - in Canada - I had the best result among men. After the technical program, I split the leadership with Browning, and artistically I won against all of them.

To compete there, by the way, was not so simple. It is considered that in the artistic program, the figure skating professional can do anything. But in the rules, there is a reminder: if in the program there are no jumps, judges can count the program as light and lower the marks. I bumped into this rule in the past year. I won in one of tournaments the technical program (by its rules I should have made three jumps) and I thought that there was no reason to continue to strain. In the artistic composition, I jumped only one triple - and as a result I got third place. Then I drew for myself a conclusion: if I come to this or that tournament, I have to perform in full force.

EV - To get to the world championship among professionals, which up till 2001 was organized by Dick Button, it was necessary to take part in selective stages. How are participants of professional tournaments now selected?

AY - Who attracts more public – that’s the one who is invited. There are only two tournaments of this kind still remaining, which is obviously not enough. Now professional sports are no less interesting than amateur. Just look at the men - Eldredge, Bojtano, Browning, Kulik, me…. And in fact everyone is jumping, despite their age. Bojtano's well-known lutz with the lifted hand, Browning's triple axel...
On the other hand, interest in figure skating in the USA continues to fall. It is felt even in how many spectators come to performances of “Stars on Ice.” The program is much more interesting, than in the past years, but it attracts less public.

EV - How can you explain it?
AY - it seems to me, that the super popularity of figure skating in the USA about ten years ago was closely connected with the scandalous history of Kerrigan - Harding and a victory at Lillehammer by Oksana Bajul. And then interest went downward. Besides, the Americans do not have now sportsmen who would win at large competitions. And it is necessary to do the shows at some other level. Perhaps, with other music, choreography, suits, ideas. Ice performances mostly are too conservative. It is necessary to think up something that people would come to and gasp: " Now that's more like it!"

EV – As people gasped during your "air" number?

AY - Yes. The owners of “Stars on Ice” agreed with my idea, though up to the last minute, they did not trust it, that I realize. The initiator of the program was Tatyana Tarasova, but at first, she formulated the ideas vaguely, like : it would be nice to think up something unusual. She began to recollect the shows at her theatre. Tatyana in general never says: "Do it this way. " She gives more likely a hint, and compels one to finish thinking independently.

I bought a tape of Cirque de Soleil and saw a number where an artist works under the dome on a trapeze. I had a thought: why couldn't I do something similar on the ice? I found the girl-acrobat in the USA (her name is Christina Van Lu). I visited with her for four days in California, and we put together a number in a courtyard near her house. Christina had all the necessary equipment for work in the air, but we put the number together at the height of 30 centimeters from the ground. We bought a special grid which can be used both as a cord and as a hammock - to have even a short-term opportunity to take a rest in the air. I was not a gymnast after all.

When I returned to Lake Placid for rehearsals of “Stars on Ice,” I was first asked to sign a paper that if during the execution of our number something bad happens, nobody would be responsible for it. I did not have any insurance for my act.

EV - And how it is possible in America without the insurance?

AY - One is allowed to work without it at the height of no more than 21 feet, which is approximately seven meters. That height was measured for me, and under it a specially bought motor was adjusted, and I began to rehearse.

EV - How did you feel at that time?

AY - When I was lifted for the first time, I did not wait for the completion of the lift and shouted: " Lower me down!" Eventually I got used to it. The unique problem was that initially I had bloody bruises on my hands. First time I worked in gloves, with special linings under my knees and a special belt as to not overload my back. And when the tour begun, I gradually got accustomed, so, that I worked without all these things. And almost after each performance I was thanked that I had thought up such an unusual number.

EV- Are you planning to buy a place to live?
AY - I live in an apartment with my mom and my grandmother, and I do not want to buy one more for myself. There is no sense in it while there is no family. But I dream of a house. We have a big enough summer residence which my uncle and I built with our own hands. Mom with my grandmother are in the habit of raising vegetables and flowers there. It would be desirable if life outside of the city they had all of the conveniences - instead of such a self-built small house, as they have now. It seems to me, it should turn out beautifully. Our site is on a hill, with a nice view. And it is only half an hour to the city by car.

EV- And how do you plan your future life? Your contract with “Stars on Ice” comes to an end in a year, if I am not mistaken?
AY - I hope very much that it will be extended. If it would be for the full eight months, a year, I probably, would begin to doubt whether it is necessary to continue. But for only four months - I can sustain it. Despite of the heavy load, I still receive a huge pleasure from my work, especially when tours approach the end, the programs are worked out and everything turns out automatically. Only for the sake of money, I would not skate. Besides, I always wished to get on this particular team. I talked about it with my agent, still when I performed as an amateur, but he told me that to get to that team, it was necessary to win the Olympics.

Up till now I do not know if they would invite me to “Stars on Ice” if I had not won in Salt Lake City. They probably would, but certainly on different financial terms. But may be not. The majority of contracts consist of four year terms, and owners always have an opportunity to reconsider the structure of the cast, depending on how the next Olympic Games will end.

EV - It looks like to get in the cast of “Stars on Ice,” you had to squeeze out Ilya Kulik - the Olympic champion of Nagano, and after Turin, the owners in the same way may refuse your services in favor of another figure skater?
AY- It is normal. There is though, a nuance. I do not know, for example, whether Evgeny Plushenko wishes to act in “Stars on Ice.” Even if he will win the Olympics, he will face certain problems. The show belongs to IMG corporation, and Evgeny is now working with another agency group. I do not know a case that “Stars on Ice” would take in a person from the competing company. So, even for an Olympic champion, it is not all so simple.

Kulik continues to be invited. This year, he participated in 20 performances of “Stars on Ice.” And by the way, all figure skaters of the cast are interchangeable. During tours across Canada, more Canadians are participating. For example, Yuka Sato was replaced this year by Jennifer Robinson. And Sarah Hughes, in her magic number where she unexpectedly appears on the ice from the empty boxes, was replaced by Jeffrey Buttle. In other performances, Sarah was replaced by Shae-Lynn Bourne, after her partner, Victor Kraatz left. She performs now as a single skater, and she is quite good. I was once replaced in a group number - though for a short while - by Kurt Browning.

EV- I know that you often visit with Ilya Kulik and Katya Gordeea in their home in Simsbury.
AY - I would not say that it is frequent. Ilya and Katya are very busy people. They have two children and so other cares and interests. But while Kulik skated in “Stars on Ice,” I tried to go to all of his performances. In Ilya's programs there are always a lot of interesting steps. And he jumps well. We basically were in good relations in amateur sports.

EV- Even when you prepared for the Games in Nagano? I remember that your coach, Alexey Mishin, said at that time that if not for your sudden cold, you should have won in Nagano.
AY - I did not consider that myself. I understood that at best there was a chance to come third. Also that Tarasova would fight hard for her pupil. I heard their dialogue in 1997 when Kulik caught a cold in the championship of Europe. I was in his hotel room when Tarasova came in. I was very impressed with the quantity of warmthwhich went from her. She was like a mother to him. She brought pills, something to drink. She constantly worried: how did Ilya feel.

For me such a relationship between trainer and pupil were a revelation. I envied Kulik then terribly. Also I could not foresee that in a year I myself will be with Tarasova.

EV - Many consider, that she is simply extremely lucky at the Games.
AY- I would not say so. More likely is that she feels extremely close to each of her sportsmen. There were moments when I was eager to practice, everything went well for me and suddenly the practice stopped. Sometimes it happens in reverse - you go on the ice, you feel like you have no strength at all, nothing goes right, but she pushes and pushes you to repeat the task. And always, as the further events showed, she was right.

Do you remember the Goodwill games in Brisbane in 2001? Tarasova in fact categorically did not want me to go there. While to me it appeared that I was a in such a good form in which I never was in the past. On the practices, I jumped four different kinds of quads - flip, loop, slachow and toe-loop. I understood that I hardly ever need to do all these jumps in one program, but took pleasure that I could! Nevertheless, I lost in Australia with a crash.

EV - I remember that in 2000 after a victory at the world championship, you seriously tried to convince me that you did not want to win Olympic Games. Do you ever remember those words?
AY -More often, I recollect 2000, when I lost everything that was possible to lose. And in fact, what in the past I did not lose. In 2000, I lost the gold at the championship of Europe, conceded in the final of the "Grand Prix", but won the main event - the world championship and therefore my memoirs of that season remained normal. In 2001, everything was lost. Therefore the shock was complete. And the main thing, I well remember, that I performed as if I played roulette: would l be lucky or not? Tarasova spoke casually that it would be nice if I would lose weight, and if I would work harder but she probably waited that I would reach understanding of the situation in my mind.

As a result, I reconsidered many things. At the end of May I went for the holidays to the Dominican Republic and there I began on a regular basis to run cross-country. And, despite of the heat, I would put on three sweat suits. Probably, I would not begin to do it if it was not for that season. Having returned to America, I moved for a month to Tarasova’s - with the unique purpose as initially to be under her rigid control if suddenly I would loose the will power to continue what I started.
There were failures. I would sometimes become crazy from a strict diet, go to "McDonald's" and gorge on hamburgers. And the next morning, I would run not for the usual 30 minutes but for one and a half hour. All summer long I worked like a dog, and most of the time - off the ice. I thought up my own system of preparation. Intuitively, I felt what was necessary to do as to lose the weight while the muscles remained powerful and dry.

EV - Did you have any time for a private life or have you been entirely carried away by your work?
AY- I do not think that such work is capable of carrying anyone. I simply knew that I was supposed to do it. And when the day would come to an end, I understood, that I already did not have any strengts to go anywhere or to do anything. I hardly reached my bed. It happened, that on Friday evening I would got out, but I was still immersed in my thoughts.

It was a period of full internal self-isolation. I even would say that I needed to be alone. If I was now told that I should pass once again through the same period, I probably, would refuse. But then I was moved only by one idea - the Olympic Games. And the more I worked, the more I understood that in principal, no other competition was of interest to me any more.

EV - And what if you would lose in Salt Lake City?
AY- I do not know what would become of me. I would certainly not lose my mind, but it would take a long time to come to my senses.

EV- I know, that you are going to take part in an ice opera, "Infinity". Are you preparing for yourself a jumping-off place in advance of your performances in Russia?
AY- I like to skate at home. The opening nights of the opera will be in September in St.-Petersburg and Moscow, then I hope to take a tour with performances to other cities - as long as the schedule of “Stars on Ice” will allow. The idea of an ice opera was considered for a long time. At first, a short cartoon was created where my image was used. This tape even received some prize. Later, it was decided to put up a big performance, with the participation of the opera singers, a live orchestra and of Igor Bobrin's theatre. I think it will turn out interestingly.

Translated by G. Sivorinovsky
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