SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Alexei Urmanovs gold medal was a fluke. Ilia Kuliks Olympic performance was brilliant, but where did he go after that?
Alexei Yagudin, the third straight Russian to win the Olympic mens figure skating championship, has a much more solid resume. And if he sticks to his word, hell be around for another four years, pushing countryman Evgeni Plushenko every spin and jump along the way.
Russian-trained men have dominated the Olympics and world championships for a decade. Victor Petrenko won the 1992 gold at Albertville and took that years world title. In 1994, Urmanov – who won a bronze medal at the 1993 worlds and not much more internationally – had, by far, the best performance of his life in Lillehammer.
Kulik, like Urmanov, had only one medal at worlds, a silver in 1996. He was superb in Nagano, then he turned pro.
Yagudin, however, hasnt been limited to one or two spectacular showings. His free skate Thursday night was among the most memorable in the games, as his four 6.0s for artistry displayed. It brought back images not of his compatriots, but of Brian Boitano and Robin Cousins.
Somebody who has won that many world championships and the Olympic gold medal has proved he is great under pressure, said Frank Carroll, who coaches bronze medalist Tim Goebel and has worked for decades with Olympians. The 6.0s prove he is a great artistic skater. Alexei combines the two things that are attractive in mens skating, great athleticism and great artistry.
Yagudin already owns three world championships and an Olympic gold at the age of 22. He spends most of his time in the United States, where he has access to the finest facilities. Now, with an Olympic title, he can set his sights on history.
The 10 world titles of Ulrich Salchow seem out of reach, but skating was an entirely different sport in the early 1900s. Tracings and spins mattered more than jumps, so comparisons are unfair.
Yagudin certainly could win more worlds than Dick Button, who holds the record since World War II with five. The Russian claims the 2006 Olympics in Italy – and all the world championships in between – are on his agenda.
Surely, I will skate until 2006, he said. I enjoy my skating, and if I am healthy, I want to continue. I know what I am capable of.
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He is capable of magic.
Skating as the Man in the Iron Mask, Yagudin left no doubt who is the king of skating. He swept the judging panel with four perfect marks and the rest 5.9s.
When his marks flashed, Yagudin could no longer contain himself, bawling uncontrollably as coach Tatiana Tarasova hugged him.
I cant realize yet Ive got the gold medal right here, he said later, lifting up his medal. It was like some good dream up there.
The dreams have been wonderful for most Russian men in recent Olympics. But Yagudin knows he will be challenged by Plushenko, the current world champion who is coached by Alexei Mishin, Yagudins former mentor.
Yagudin and Mishin got into a verbal spat after the medals ceremony when Mishin tried to take some credit for Yagudins development. The gold medalist would have none of it.
For four years, so much (garbage) was thrown in my face, saying that Im not such a good skater from that side, he said, pointing to Mishin and Plushenko. I was keeping that to myself until I actually won. It was really hard for me, but still, that was stimulating me for four years in my life.
Goebel will be able to chase the two Russians by continuing to improve his artistry. Under Carrolls guidance, Goebel no longer is just the Quad King. And if he makes similar strides in presentation – while working on even more difficult jumps – Goebel should be a factor in the biggest events.
Leading right up to the 2006 Olympics.
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