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Figure Skating - Athletes
Еvgeny Plushenko and Alexey Mishin
Photo© Alex Wilf
Evgeni Plushenko

If it weren't for this I'd have never thought what stands behind a matter-of-fact expression «the surgery was successful». After all, four months passed since this surgery and you just had to see Plushenko's serene and happy expression when he was practicing to understand: no pain.

But it happened so that I was watching three-time World Champion's practice in company with his mom Tatiana. Suddenly she said:

- When we arrived to Germany and the doctors learnt for how long Zhenya skated with the injury and what were his injections during the World championship, it seemed to me they couldn't believe. They asked to sow the package of the medicine. And said in Germany the injections of this medicine are for animals only - tranquilizing. And I thought all complications – allergy, nausea and high temperature, that appeared after the injection, maybe were caused by it. Zhenya has told he can't remember well how he skated. And before the free skate it got even worse.

In Germany , actually, I calmed down a little. I knew Dr. Mushavek has made more than thousand of such surgeries. Two hours after Zhenya was brought to his ward from the operating room the doctors told him to get up. They said he needed to walk as much as possible if he wanted to jump again.

- You see, - Tatiana added after some pause. – It wasn't my aim that my son seriously did sport. I just thought figure skating could make Zhenya healthier. Who knew it would cost so much …


I spent the whole day in Piter. The interview with Plushenko was planned after the first practice. Evgeni stayed longer at some treatment procedures and the conversation with him was postponed till the evening. «Don't worry, he'll come earlier, - Mishin said. - If necessary, we'll start the off-ice practice a bit later. But I'm at your service».

- In spring and in the beginning of summer you were against any contacts with media. Why?

- The end of the season was untraditional for us, let's put it so. When an athlete has to withdraw from a World Championship although they can win it even being out of shape – it's a serious psychological stress. Plushenko's health didn't allow us to talk about any plans for the next season. We ourselves didn't know the consequences.

- Were you shocked when you learnt that the athlete needs two surgeries?

- Even if I was shocked, my shock was a positive one. Before arriving to Germany we didn't know what to treat, how to treat. Diagnoses made by Russian doctors were quite controversial. So I was terribly glad when Dr. Mushavek said that it was a typical case of inguinal rings distention since I knew such surgeries generally are successful and don't jeopardize career. Mushavek said herself that she couldn't remember a single unsuccessful outcome in her practice. When talking to us she even boasted to some extent that medical technologies were so much mastered at her clinic. It was approximately like this: «Tomorrow we operate on the left side, the day after tomorrow – on the right side, you spend one more night in the hospital and then you can go and play football!».

- And in reality, how was the recovery?

- It was clear almost right away that Zhenya would recover. At first sutures were bleeding a little but it stopped a week later. Though I realized this time wasn't easy for Plushenko. First of all, he was on the operating table for the first time in his life. And second, before starting the treatment you have to sign a paper - that's a rule in German clinics - that in case of any complications you're responsible for them. And this itself can cause psychological problems.

- Did Plushenko have any medical insurance to cover the treatment costs?

- No. Zhenya and I, we paid for the surgery ourselves, half-and-half. They promised to reimburse us this sum, and I know the funds have already been allocated. We just haven't yet received them.

- What was the cost of the treatment?

- The surgery cost EUR 7 500,00. Plus travel costs and the expenses on hospital stay. At the moment the sum didn't matter. We were ready to pay more.

- And what was your reaction to the news that your student was getting married?

- He called me and said: «Alexei Nikolaevich, are you standing or sitting?» Anyway, I was the first to learn the news.

- And?

- You see, I had quite a few shocks that were much stronger… For instance, when I wasn't allowed to go to 1976 Olympics. I already got the official Olympic costume, bought souvenirs and was going with other Olympians across the Red Square to Lenin's Mausoleum. A sports official approached me and said, covering his mouth with his hand «You're not going. Not». A great characteristic of the socialism, I must say. Looking at the Mausoleum, I thought «Yeah, Vladimir Ilych, you're dead, yet your lifework is alive». And after that, all those endless visits to the officials, calls to the «proper authorities», when my already printed book was pulped, didn't allow to invite me to radio and TV … after all that when an athlete decides to get married – it's such a small thing.

- Still, had you not been placed before fact but asked for advice, what would've you said? I' asking because Irina Rodnina, for instance, have said how much the stamp in the passport changes athlete's life even if this stamp doesn't change the existing relations between people.

- Many years ago, at my own wedding a guest told a parable about a person who went to a wise man for advice in the same situation. The wise man said: «If you don't marry, you'll regret it. If you marry, you may regret it, as like as not. Then get married!». If partners who skate together decide to marry – it's one case. When the wife is not a partner, a coach or a student, I think it's OK.

Besides I believe you must see a positive side in everything. Zhenya is a person who always needs someone close to him. These were different people. His mom, me, coaches, friends. Time will show if it was a right step. We'll see soon.


- There's a common wisdom that when commanders are getting ready for future wars actually they're getting ready for the past ones - with a glance to experience they have, and not the one they will have. What are you getting ready for? What do you expect from Torino Olympics?

- When we were getting ready for the previous Olympics, we were striving to bring everything to perfection. Footwork, and spins, and jumps, and costumes, programs on the whole so that they would be some new step in figure skating… Now I realize you should choose only key aspects, the ones that are really necessary. If you chase after everything, you may become a centepede.

- May I ask what are these aspects …

- No! I won't say it to anybody before the end of the Olympics.

- Then this, more special question: there're busy discussions if quad jumps should be included to the program in the light of the new rules. Bonus for complexity isn't so considerable and if you fail you can lose much.

- It's a question I'm constantly thinking about. During the previous Olympic cycle I said many useful things and it turned out many coaches started to se them right away. Once I even got a call from Arik Zakarian – Zhenya's agent – and said: «Alexei Nikolaevich, stop holding seminars. 70 per cent of the coaches in the US use your approach». Actually, you've asked a very good and serious question. That's why I don't want to answer it.

- And the refusal to participate in the Grand-Prix series is a link in the same strategic chain?

- Actually Plushenko doesn't need such stress now. As to me, I think the very system of drawing seeded skaters leaves much to be desired. For instance, last season, Zhenya had to compete in Canada , then Japan , then Moscow and China . Such flights within a relatively short time are very tiring. We have decided already a year ago that it doesn't make sense to compete anywhere besides Cup of Russia in Piter.

- Yet your student will be competing at commercial events that will take place in Japan and US in October with only a week between them.

- Not anymore. One of these days I've sent the withdrawal to the organizers despite that the prizes at such competitions are quite solid.

- So it is you who make these decisions?

- Our relations have never been like «I'm the boss, you're the fool». Plushenko has the same right as me to make his own decision, although not all coaches like to confess it. Generally I tell him my arguments. If Zhenya disagrees with anything, we start discussing the problem searching for the best decision. But in this case we were unanimous.

- But you need to skate the new programs somewhere? At least just to make sure they meet all the new requirements.

- Frankly speaking, I doubt anyone understands the technical part of skating better than me. Besides, we have enough competitions. There will be test skates, theт maybe some part of Russian Cup, Cup of Russia in Piter, Russian Nationals, European Championship … Apart from the technical side, this season we have done everything to work with many specialists and get as many opinions about the programs as possible.

- You mean inviting Nikolai Morozov?

- Not only. Edvald Smirnov, Sergei Petukhov and David Avdysh helped us as well. Together we discussed music choices, choreography.

- By the way, about music. Is it still a secret?

- The secrets are very relative. I know, «spies» have already been at Yubilejny and they told our rivals what we were doing. What music, what footwork, how consistent quads are. Somehow everyone are already convinced the short program is «Carmina Burana», although it's not so. We are still discussing it. We also have a new free program. Yet most likely Zhenya will skate the old one.

- Why?

- Plushenko feels this routine better, he likes it. And it's a serious argument. Moreover this program isn't overused, he's barely skated it to the best.

- Is it for you easier or more difficult to work now than four years ago?

- Now it's more interesting.


My talk with Mishin has convinced me the coach has planned the tactic preparation for the Olympics to the last detail. And he's right: to avoid any possible comparison of the main contender for the Olympic Gold before he gets into shape. To provoke curiousity so that Plushenko's appearance on the competitive ice will be anticipated. Since now (maybe for the first time in many years) there's time, energy and possibility to work with eve-yone's best.
“He has changed”, said Mishin about his student. «I guess you'll see it yourself».

It turned out the coach was right. In Plushenko's eyes showed up an expression typical for those who have determined the main goal. Confidence, serenity and awareness that from now any sacrifice is just a mean to achieve the goal.

- You look so cheerful that one will start to believe in German surgeons' miracles – two pierces and the athlete is like reborn – I couldn't refrain from a joke.

- These are not pierces. Two scars, some eight cm each – Plushenko didn't take my humorous tone. – Though doctors said I would be able to run three or for days after the surgery, it wasn't so. The incisions hurt much, it took them long to heal. When I started running, the first times I could run just 7-8 minutes. When I stepped on ice a month later, it hurt too. I was even afraid pain would stay and I wouldn't recover completely, in spite of doctors' assurance. But later pain was gone.

- I can imagine your stress. As far as I remember, both you and your coach hoped you wouldn't need a surgery?

- When we arrived to the clinic, I was some 80% ready for the surgery. Most important, I knew the diagnosis by the time, thanks to «Zenit» doctors. The first one to think about inguinal rings distention was our team doctor Viktor Anikanov. But we didn't listen to his words. Everybody said quite different things. Chorditis, bursting, micro-bursting… I calmed down after I talked to football players. It's a «football» injury. Of course, it's easier when you hear than everyone who's had such surgery recover and continue running, jumping ..

- Are you still observed by doctors?

- No athlete has managed to avoid injuries. I've decided that starting from this year I'll be doing everything possible not to wait until it comes to a breaking point. Physician and masseur work with me every day. I'm just tired of looking after my health. If we are talking about gold medals, I need some assistance from those who are interested in these medals just like me.

- I've spent the whole day on the rink and I can see all coaches are concerned that their student's programs comply with the requirements to the maximum. Are you concerned about it as well?

- I think it would be better if the new rules came into force in 4 or 5 years, and not drop from the clouds before the Olympics. For instance, I've never practiced edge changes in spins. Never thought I would need to spin in the other direction. I haven't done many other things that are required by the new rules. Footwork lasts 25 seconds and not 15 like last season. You need health to do all this and a different force distribution. Besides, new requirements are added to the last-season system. On one side, it's interesting. Yet you have to think the the Olympics are in six months, and not only have you to do all this, you have to do everything on a very high level.

- How long are you going to keep your programs in secret?

- As usually, till the first competition. Of course, we don't make a secret of our work. But we don't speak about it unnecessarily either. Therefore I didn't skate the new program in Moscow on ice-hockey Spartak Cup where I was invited to skate. I have a good choice this season. There's a new long program, there's the old one. I practice both.

- Why have you decided to withdraw from competitions in the US and Japan?

- I'm such a person I must win everywhere I compete. I'm out of form now and I'll hardly be able to prepare for such difficult competitions in a month. And the doctors say it's not desirable to speed up training.
There's the second point. If you start training to be ready to compete in September it's very hard to keep the form up to the end of the season. Besides, every competitions is an emotional outburst which I cannot afford this season. There're exhibitions where I can quietly skate the program and practice the jumps.

- I know you have already showed to public one of your new programs while you were training in Jaca.

- In Spain we worked mainly on physical preparation, spins, footwork. We did few jumps. Indeed, there were exhibitions – I skated «Carmina Burana». Only to try new step sequences, spins, transitions. The training camp was wonderful – three weeks of nice weather, mountains, excellent ice, quite atmosphere…

- Did you participate in Mishin's workshops in Jaca?

- No, I guess it would be wrong in the Olympic season.

- So it is your conclusion that this will be quite a special season for you?

- I'd sain – the main one. At the previous Olympics I didn't realize where I came, what for. Now I understand perfectly well what atmocphere is waiting for me. Moreover, I've already competed in Torino, I know the rink, where's the best place to warm up, where to step on ice. The preparation is planned so that the peak will be at the Olympics. Of course, I give up everything that may get in way of this aim. I've even decided for myself I won't drink a single drop of alcohol before the Games. Neither beer, nor champaign - nothing

- I guess you were especially careful with choosing the music?

- We worked with many specialists – Avdysh, Smirnov, Morozov, Petukhov – all of them suggested their choices. Both Mishin and I, we also had our suggestions. Thus the final decision was made. The last word is always mine. It's me who skates. And it's very important if I feel the music or not.

- How do you manage to work with so many choreographers? Most of them are quite jealous and they painfully react to any interference with their work.

- Generally I'm working with three different specialists and I'm used to it. It was my initiative to invite Morozov. I thought about it for a long time, I just couldn't bring myself to tell. I wanted to try working with someone who used to skate himself.

- The difference is so big?.

- Actually yes. Although I realized it not so long ago - when Povilas Vanagas arrived to our training camp and we tried to choreograph some footwork with him. You can always see when a person used to skated. They'll never suggest something impossible, will advise how to make a move «your own». Then for some time I worked on the footwork with Lesha Vasilevsky and I decided to engage possible in choreographing the new programs a wide range of people who could suggest new ideas and new moves.

- And it is said by someone who's famous for his most expressive footwork?

- But they could be even better, right? For instance, it's unpleasant for me to see that many skaters copy en-tire parts of my programs not trying to create something new. I like creating myself. When I warm up I improvise for some five minutes, sometimes interesting things come out of this.

- Why didn't you want to skate in Moscow on September, 25 in Ilya Averbukh's show where almost the whole national team will skate? Is it because you're not ready, or just you don't like so much to skate in Moscow?

- Who's said I don't like? I've never refused to participate in Russian nationals when they were held in Moscow, although many times I could skip qualifying, like others did. I was on test skates in Odintsovo. I haven't just given the final answer to Averbukh. Probably I will skate in Luzhniki.

- And will you participate in test skates?

- Of course. With new programs. Actually it's very good that they'll be in Novogorsk, closed to public. the Olympic season is not an ordinary one. It's no good to turn test skates into exhibitions. I believe you should skate for public when you're ready for it. Especially, with competitive programs. Usually no one can do well all elements in September. It's unpleasant enough to skate in such conditions, besides fifteen hundred people are looking at you.

- Refusing to skate in commercial competitions always means financial losses. Where comes money for practices? Do you have sponsors?

- We have constant negotiations with sponsors. Thought I think in such a situation both St.Petersburg figure skating federation, and the Russian one should take part in preparation and not just individuals found by my agent, coach or me myself.

- Do you have offers to appear in commercials?

- Nothing interesting. I have only once appeared in a commercial videoclip, mostly out of curiousity than for money. It was interesting indeed. It lasted the whole day – make up, changing costumes, hairdos. Only constant delays were annoying. Like scene sets were not ready, lighters are not on their workplace. Now I have i couple of suggestions to act in movies but I cannot plan anything before the end of the season.

- Are you planning to invite your family to Torino Olympics?

- Of course. But I think they'll arrive after I finish the competitions.



© Елена Вайцеховская, 2003
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