Evgeni Plushenko: “In Salt Lake City, I lost fair. I’m not ashamed of that defeat. I had a strong opponent. Vancouver – it was definitely a state like Trusova had in Beijing.”
Interview with Evgeni Plushenko. Plushenko explained why he believed in the victory of Anna Shcherbakova more than in her compatriots, and also told how he would have acted in the place of the FFKKR during the team event.
source: russian.rt.com dd. 23d March 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
A question that, I believe, still haunts a huge number of fans: why did you bet on Anna Shcherbakova in the women’s Olympic event?
Evgeni Plushenko: When Sasha Trusova started training with me and we came with her to the Russian Nationals 2020, for the first time I saw Shcherbakova not from the stands. I carefully watched all her trainings, how she warms up, what she does on the ice. Anya performed then after COVID-19, and I’ve already knew what it was: I myself had been ill in a very difficult form, I was in intensive care. And this girl skated both the short program and the free program clean. That’s when I realized that Shcherbakova has a core, that she is not only able to get together, but absolutely amazingly able to do it at the right time. I was finally convinced of this at the World Championships.
Evgeni Plushenko: Yes. In training, Shcherbakova could not do anything at all, she fell from triple jumps. Went on the triple lutz – triple loop combination and fell from it constantly, while Sasha Trusova was in brilliant shape and beat everyone in training.
I remember this very well because I saw it with my own eyes.
Evgeni Plushenko: I then looked at Sasha and thought that with such skating she could afford to perform, as they say, on one leg. Do not jump any 85 ultra-c, calmly do a short program to be second or third, skate a free program with a maximum of three quadruples and leave with a gold medal. But, unfortunately, we did not succeed.
Well, before the Olympic Games, I figured that Anya, in addition to her personal qualities, already has a successful experience in major competitions. So I decided to bet on her.
It turns out that Valieva also caused you doubts?
Evgeni Plushenko: Kamila is an amazing athlete. She has a brilliant plasticity, beautiful movements, beautiful spins, she stretches her legs. Plus, beautiful jumps with a good landings, for which you can give big GOE. But for some reason I believed in Anya.
If you were one of the team leaders and made decisions about a team event, what lineup would you suggest?
Evgeni Plushenko: I would suggest making changes in the women’s team. Shcherbakova to skate the short program, and Trusova to skate the free program. In this variation, provided that Valieva would have won the individual event, all three Russian girls would have a chance to return from Beijing with a gold medal. Each of them deserved it and was definitely worthy of an Olympic victory.
You have competed at four Olympics and have never participated in the World Championships after these Olympics. Why? Is the emotional devastation that strong?
Evgeni Plushenko: Alexei Nikolaevich Mishin and I have always prepared in the Olympic seasons for the most important start, that is, for the Games. Everything else was in the category of minor competitions: European Championships, Grand Prix Finals. If these starts did not fit into the preparation, we skipped them. Well, at the Olympics, if everything goes well, the World Championships is not actually needed. I have always reasoned that way. In addition, something always happened to me after the Olympics. Either I fell ill, or some kind of injury worsened, and I no longer wanted to take risks, knowing that further time was scheduled for shows or professional competitions. After all it was necessary to make money somehow.
But the main thing — there was no drive. For some reason, I remember very well how Ilia Kulik won the Nagano Olympics and immediately announced that he would go to the World Championships. Mishin then put me up for the world championships for the first time. He said that Kulik, most likely, will not perform, so we will go to the USA with him and Lyosha Yagudin and will prepare for two weeks in Minneapolis. I did not understand until the last day, whether I will perform or not. Although if you take my very first Olympics, we also planned to go to the World Championships after it.
Why didn’t you go?
Evgeni Plushenko: I got very sick in Salt Lake City right after the performance. For three days I was just laying. The temperature rose to 40, my whole body twisted, I could not get up – the doctors took me by the arms. I thought I would die. I was taken to a clinic, which was located right in the Olympic Village, but the tests showed nothing, and from the reaction of the doctors, I saw that they did not understand what was happening to me. I still don’t know what happened then. Probably, it happened against the background of everything experienced. The stress was too big.
In your Olympic history, there were two rather painful defeats – Salt Lake City and Vancouver. Is what happened at those Games comparable to the state of Trusova after the defeat in Beijing?
Evgeni Plushenko: In Salt Lake City, I lost fair. Lyosha was stronger. He psychologically withstood, and skated brilliantly. So I’m not ashamed of that defeat. I had a strong opponent who, by the mere fact of his existence, pushed me forward, and I pushed him. Vancouver – yes, it was definitely a state, like Trusova’s. True, the reaction was primarily to the judging system and the low value of quads. I knew that Mishin would be for me in any situation. But the Figure Skating Federation did not support me then and, alas, did not even file a protest: I was the only one who performed the 4-3 combination in the short program, but at the same time I was only 1.5 points ahead of Evan Lysacek. Therefore, already at this stage it became clear what will happen next. But, nevertheless, I’m glad that it was after my speech at the press conference and the indignation of a significant part of the world press and fans that the International Skating Union once again changed the judging system, significantly increasing the value of quadruple jumps.
Not so long ago I spoke with Rafael Arutyunyan, and he said that he would not be surprised if Nathan Chen did not want to continue his sports career after the triumph in Beijing. How did you manage to find motivation for so many years?
Evgeni Plushenko: After the victory in Turin, I left for three years and thought that it was final. At that time, I already had two Olympics, two medals, silver and gold, and I understood that I didn’t need anything else. There is money, there are contracts signed for three years and very good contracts, that is, I am busy enough not to regret that I lack regular competitions. Well, how many times can you win the World Championships? Seven? Eight? So what?
But you returned before Vancouver.
Evgeni Plushenko: Wife prompted. When we first met, Yana went with me on one of the tours. I was a “donut”, I weighed 82 kg – I gained a lot after the sport. I was supposed to weigh 69 kg, maximum 71. But … Good life, food. In sports, after all, we were constantly starving. By that tour, I began to move more actively, lost a little weight, restored the triple axel. Yana looked at it and said: “Listen, turns out you’re still not bad, and you jump cool. Maybe back to the sport?”
It was said as a joke, but it stuck in my head. I watched some championships on TV and asked myself the question: what are they doing that I couldn’t do? As a result, in 2008 we went to a training camp in Germany, skated for one and a half to two weeks, almost immediately my knees started to hurt – the previous meniscus injury made itself felt. There, in Germany, I had a surgery – for the sixth time. And the season was finally over. At first, I told both Yana and Mishin that I definitely wouldn’t be able to skate, but then I began to train again. And got involved.
Do you think Chen can return in three years?
Evgeni Plushenko: He is studying, and seriously. Of course, I would like to see Nathan at one more Games, but it will be difficult for him. There is such a boy growing up, our Russian, Ilia Malinin. The son of my friends, Tanya Malinina and Roma Skornyakov. Already now he is doing a 4-4 combination with a toe loop and loop, and if all this reaches the desired level, consider that he has gone five years ahead of all the rest. But in generall, I would like to see Yuzuru Hanyu at the fourth Olympics.
Wait! At one time, you personally told me that you want to compete at four Olympics and that no one could repeat this achievement.
Evgeni Plushenko: I didn’t mean participation, but medals. So Yuzuru will not repeat my record, alas. Although I’m sorry. He is a real fan of this sport. I don’t know any other athletes like him. You can just skate for a long time, without striving for the maximum result, even up to more than 40 years old. In pair skating, the Englishwoman, who has three children, skates.
How can you, as a coach, explain the fact that Russian girls are quite famously trying to perform “senior” quadruple jumps, while for boys this process is slow?
Evgeni Plushenko: I have four great boys in the senior group, and I can say that their head is arranged in a completely different way, as if some kind of block stands up to a certain age. It’s hard for me to compare with my own experience. I started jumping quads at the age of 18. Once I talked to Mishin and asked him: why didn’t we take a break for a year and prepare all the quadruple jumps? He replies: “Zhenya, but it wasn’t necessary then.”
Now at the age of 15, athletes begin to think differently. They begin to think differently, train differently. But you never know exactly when it will happen. For my skaters the situation turned upside down in just one day. And the quads immediately started to work out. Nikita Sarnovsky has a lutz on the way, he jumped salchow and toe loop in a week. His brother Kirill now also started to jump loop and salchow. In the junior group, I have an 11-year-old boy who has all the quads very close. Although I am not a supporter of such jumps at the age of 11. It’s too traumatic.
When Daria Usacheva suffered a hip fracture last November, there were many statements that serious injuries in figure skating are the norm. Do you share this point of view?
Evgeni Plushenko: Injuries happen to all athletes, this is a fact. Especially now, when figure skating has gone so far ahead. But I wouldn’t compare with how it was in my time. We really didn’t have any normal sports medicine or recovery procedures. Now there is everything: drugs, apparatus, massage, a swimming pool, a sauna, nourishment for joints, muscles, and ligaments. I myself recently bought a device for recovery after loads for the school, which costs like a cast-iron bridge. But when I say that at the age of 11 it’s still too early to jump quads, I mean that children at this age do not yet have the necessary muscle corset, there are no ligaments prepared for such work.
If girls almost never have Osgood-Schlatter disease (a disease in which tuberosity appears on the anterior surface of the tibia. – RT ), and if it happens, then these are rare cases, boys have this problem all the time. At one time “schlatters” tortured me, and my Sanka, who is now nine years old, also had difficulties with this. But many parents are often set up like this: does it hurt? It’s okay, let them continue to jump. No one thinks at all that a child won’t jump a lot if something hurts. More likely he will got injured. But the current parents know everything much better than the coaches. And this is a common situation.
Don’t they feel sorry for their own children?
Evgeni Plushenko: No. Although I don’t understand it. My Sanyok now only jumps double jumps, and I don’t worry about this at all. Even if he starts jumping triples in a year or two, it won’t change anything. Everything will be decided much later. And it is important how healthy and strong you enter this senior sport.
I have heard many times that only a few that can withstand the physical training that you give at your school.
Evgeni Plushenko: You know, at one time I had a coach Mikhail Khrisanfovich Makoveev, who led me in Volgograd for four years and handed me over to Mishin at the age of 11. He himself had nothing to do with figure skating, he was a weightlifter. And we had such an physical trainings, that none of the current ones can be compared. Crosses, push-ups, jumps of all kinds …
I can say that I have not even begun to “torment” my children with real loads, although in comparison with other schools we really have a high level general physical trainings. Therefore, we had such a cool start of the season. Veronika Zhilina began to win, and Sonya Muraviova, and many jumped the triple axel. I myself ran with them here in the summer around the territory, as Makoveev once ran with us. We did not go to any training camp on purpose, we stayed at home, because the existing base allowed us to do very high-quality summer work.
I approach the physical training very carefully and responsibly. With Sasha Trusova, we did a lot of work at the training camp in Kislovodsk. True, then she said that it was too hard for her, and we had to reduce the loads a little.
Is it difficult to start working with an athlete who is already used to a certain training format?
Evgeni Plushenko: Not easy. For example, I had a very talented skater, we started to work very well, worked on programs, but two weeks passed – and the person seemed to be stuck: no matter what I said, he didn’t seem to hear me, he skated on his own. I tell him: if you just came to take the ice and train on your own, this will not happen. And he answers me that he just used to it, he trained alone all his life. Coaches, at best, will prompt something in passing. In the end, we parted. When an athlete trains without constant supervision, it is likely that some mistakes will be memorized, if they were not corrected in time. And in emergency situations, at big competitions, they can show up.
When this or that skater starts asking to join your school, do you somehow take into account the interests of those who are already skating with you? And is it necessary to take into account the point of view of the athlete at all?
Evgeni Plushenko: My position in this regard has always been simple: if you come to my house, then you must accept my rules.
You yourself know how jealous athletes can be.
Evgeni Plushenko: I know. But then it is necessary to close the question in a different way, as I myself once did when I found out that Alexei Nikolaevich was thinking about taking Stephane Lambiel into the group. Mishin then came to training and said: there is such a proposal. And he announced the amount of money he was offered. I immediately told the coach: do not take, I will give you more. And that’s it. It was a lot of money, but the issue was closed.
Was it emotions or purely practical considerations?
Evgeni Plushenko: More like the second one. I knew that Lambiel was a strong athlete. That Mishin will give him a good story and it will become much more difficult for me to compete with him. In general, all over the world figure skating is arranged in such a way that it is not the coach who pays the athletes, but the athletes pay the coach. Especially in private schools. For example Cricket Club in Toronto where Brian Orser coaches, earns a lot of money just from the fact that skaters pay for membership. We gave our athletes housing, personal sponsors and a lot of other preferences.
Russian athletes are now deprived of the opportunity to take part in international competitions. Have you already thought how to use this period of forced downtime?
Evgeni Plushenko: You still have to compete. It is necessary to hold competitions within the country, to invite China, Armenia, Belarus – everyone. I have already made a suggestion: why not launch a series of Grand Prix in Russia? On the same dates, six stages and the Final. But not for the six finalists, but to make two groups so that there are ten or 12 people. You can’t do without competitions. I think that in two years we will return to the international arena, and we must be ready for this.
Don’t you think that it’s time to change the rules once again and stop paying attention to wrong edges or pre-rotations? Maybe it’s worth making the evaluation criteria more primitive, but also more understandable, and not wonder why the athlete performs a toe loop like a salchow, and the judges do not see it?
Evgeni Plushenko: I have always been in favor of living by the rules. And according to these very rules, the flip must be jumped from the inside edge, and the lutz must be jumped clearly from the outside edge. If it is a toe pick jump, it must be toe pick. Yes, after the toe pick, the skater is allowed to move a little to the edge, but definitely not to such an extent that the toe loop looked as a salchow.
At one time, I jumped lutz, and after the toe pick, I also had a slight transition to the edge. I even remember Kurt Browning (four-time world champion. – RT ) said at one of the world championships, where he was a commentator, that this should be banned. But when they began to look more closely, they realized that more than 60% of the skaters jump like that.
Thanks to this trick, prerotation is done?
Evgeni Plushenko: Yes. But here, not everything is clear. It is possible and necessary to pre-rotate in jumps. It’s bad when it’s done quite frankly. Remember, there was such an athlete – Timothy Goebel? His jump was very tiny, low. But he “steal” turns on the ice so well that in the air he had to complete three and a quarter turns in a quadruple jump. I also teach my athletes to turn on the ice. But not to the extent that some girls do in quadruple jumps. It’s not that I’m judging anyone. But the time will surely come when they will be punished for it. And it will be impossible to relearn.
Or another example: at some point, many coaches began to teach children to jump with their arms up, because they were given bonuses for this. As a result, we have a bunch of skaters who do not know how to do a classic grouping at all. This, is also wrong. Classics is classics and it should remain the basis. If you are good at performing jumps from a classic approach, it becomes easier to master all sorts of variations. An athlete must be versatile, this is important.
You were very lucky with the coach.
Evgeni Plushenko: I learned a lot from Mishin, that’s for sure. I remember when I first came to him from Volgograd, I knew how to jump a toe loop only from the classic three-turn step. And I was terribly annoyed that I could not do this jump from a different approach. It seems that the element is simple, and I know how to make it, but from unusual entries, all sensations are lost. By the way, Trusova had the same situation when we started working with her.
Who choreographs programs for your guys?
Evgeni Plushenko: Mostly Dima Mikhailov. Very nice, intelligent and talented guy. There is another interesting choreographer – Leonid Sviridenko. He worked for several seasons at the training camp with Benoit Richaud, took a lot from him. Sergei Komolov did programs for Veronika Zhilina, and Masha Stavitskaya, who skated with me in the group of Alexei Nikolaevich when she was a small child, also worked with her.
In general, I would add time to the free programs in order to strengthen the choreographic component. So that artistic images appear, so that the program is better perceived, so that there is an opportunity to pause, to give the athletes the opportunity to rest a bit before the second half. I miss this when I watch figure skating. It seems that now they do not pay attention to the choreography at all. There is a minimal artistic image – and it’s good. Everyone is running, running, running… Rockers, counters, loops, twizzles…
You turn 40 this year. Looking back at the past years, what do you consider the greatest achievement: four Olympic medals or your own school?
Evgeni Plushenko: The biggest achievement is my children. My three sons. Egor, Sasha, Arseni. Yana’s sons are already quite adult, they are 18 and 19 years old. Both live separately, but often come to us. They study at MGIMO, they are smart and independent.
As far as I know, you also want to have a daughter.
Evgeni Plushenko: And more than one, I hope.
Athletes of your level are usually egoists, but you seem to be striving to warm the whole world. Where does this need come from?
Evgeni Plushenko: I always wanted to have a big family, honestly. At the age of 11, I left my family for St. Petersburg, my parents were not around for a long time. It was hard. Nothing to eat, always alone. Skated in training – and that’s it, alone again, the elders have their own company. Maybe I’m just trying to make up for it all now?
When the first great wealth came, did it turn you head not move, at least temporarily?
Evgeni Plushenko: To some extent it happened, of course. But my mother was ready for this.
Let me explain why I asked: you and I walked around your property for almost an hour, and nowhere did I see the slightest hint of some kind of luxury, a desire to impress. In our country, this is not very typical for public people. Much more often, stars tend to demonstrate that they do not count money. Everything is very comfortable and somehow very homely here.
Evgeni Plushenko: You know, Yana and I could buy any housing, moreover, luxurious, in the same America or in Dubai. But, as business partners, we decided to invest all our money in sports, in our common school, even if it brings only losses for now. This is not just a gym where the light is turned on, the parquet is laid – and you can work. The skating rink is, first of all, the need to constantly maintain a certain temperature. Not to mention a bunch of accompanying structures. But we took the risk and do not regret it.
Price for a dream?
Evgeni Plushenko: To some extent, yes. Ever since I started making money skating, I really had a dream to build my own ice rink one day where my kids could skate. So that they don’t go anywhere, so that everything is close to home. True, I thought it would be in St. Petersburg. In general, I thought that I would live in St. Petersburg all my life, but it so happened that we moved. It remains to make a coaching career. Over time.
Zoe Jones: “At my 42, I would still skate, to be honest. But we’re a pair, and I don’t have the right to hold a person if he is tired of the sport.”