Yagudin vs. Plushenko- 2001 GPF

This is going to be a short post… at least I hope it’s going to be.

As it’ll probably be every year, I saved a bunch of YouTube videos about figure skating on my “Watch Later” list. This time happened to include 3 competitions. All happened to be Grand Prix Finals.
Appropriate, considering that the GPF in Barcelona is the next competition on the docket. Granted, it won’t be until next week. According to my notes, they’ll show the short programs on Universal Sports on Thursday and Friday and the free skates will be on the 20th on NBC.

The first video I watched of my saved videos was the short programs for the 2001 GPF- and it included the men and ladies’. (I skipped the pairs and short dances because I really don’t care as much about them).

It was interesting with the ladies because I got to see another athlete from Uzbekistan (I guess Misha Ge was the first one to make it to the Olympics) and I saw Irina Slutskaya in her prime… and fell in love with her skating. I don’t know if its that Russian energy or her soul, but she looked amazing. Never lost my attention for a second. Even though Michelle Kwan of all people was competing with her, I still wanted Irina to win (and she won both of the GPF I watched yesterday).
I also wasn’t aware Sarah Hughes was skating at this point. I remembered her at Torino (why I only saw the women is beyond me… but I don’t know if I would have been wowed by Plushenko, had I seen him then) and being disappointed she was the American that got the Gold medal. I was a die-hard Sasha Cohen fan and it broke my heart that she never succeeded in getting the highest title in the sport.

They had some commentary beforehand talking about the pros and cons of using an old program. It’s an interesting concept. It could be old and tired, but it could also be a good fallback if you don’t have the time and energy to learn a brand new program.
Alexei Yagudin was among the people in this conversation and I was surprised with how good his English was. Irina as well, but with her and Plushenko, the Russian accent and speech patterns are still very much present. With him, he almost sounded American- the exception was a winning interview where his grammar in one sport reminded me that he was Russian.

I made a comment on a previous blog post about how changing coaches could change a skater for better or worse. Saying how Yulia Lipnitskaya changed coaches to get away from Evgenia Medvedeva, who was the new crowned favorite with her former coach.
I also made a comment that wound up being false… that Alexei Yagudin might have benefited from changing coaches sooner, but he might have done it too late in his career for it to help him…
in this competition, he had already switched coaches… and it probably did contribute to him winning Gold at Salt Lake City.
But after seeing him perform here, as well as Plushenko’s level of skating and choreography… beyond Plushenko’s fall on his opening quad, it’s not surprising at all that Alexei won the Gold that year.

One comment before getting too far down this rabbit hole:
WTF was the ISU thinking?! The original format was having the skaters do a short program and a free skate on the same day and another free skate on the next day- and the two free skates had to be 50% different from each other.
WERE THEY NUTS?!
Never mind the fact that I had to go through an additional hour of video footage- what about the skaters? How are they not exhausted going through all that? It’s completely ridiculous!

It makes Plushenko’s comments at the 2000 GPF victory lap even more mind-boggling- that doing 3 programs in 2 days wasn’t difficult for him. I get that he was 17, but that degree of that confidence…
If not for the fact he excelled and was healthy, I’d say he’s a glutton for punishment.
Also, his English at the age of 17- I could see him thinking hard about what he wanted to say even though he might not have understood all of the wording in his questions- but it was really good.

Going back to 2001 real quick- since this is kinda the reason I started this entry…

It was interesting to see Todd Eldridge and Timothy Goebel for the first time. Both had their good points, but the whole talk of the quad- the commentators had it right, that conversation. But it still doesn’t explain Vancouver to me- how it was possible for Evan Lysachek to win without a quad in either of his programs…
But seeing Timothy Goebel do a quad salchow… I thought Yuzuru and Javier Fernandez made it look easy… his was SPECTACULAR. I’d say he was extremely gifted if the rest of his skating (artistry, etc.) matched.
Beyond those two, it was all about the Russians.

They were competing in Canada on a small rink that was giving almost everyone trouble.
But it almost sounded unfair that the commentators AND the crowd were cheering for Yagudin and Plushenko only got half of the praise and applause that he did.
Supposedly, he had been training with the Canadians after leaving Alexei Mishin’s coaching, so he has a lot of fans there.

Probably the one criticism that the commentators had constantly- Plushenko’s music and all the strange cuts in it.
The Michael Jackson medley, I will give them a little leeway on that.
Once Upon a Time in America- that always felt like one selection of music to me, so it’s never bothered me.

In the long run, between the two skaters, they were practically tied in the short program, Plushenko won the first free skate and Yagudin dominated on the second.

His short program music, “Winter” was by the all-girl string quarter bond. I loved it when he did it in Salt Lake City- it was a MOMENT for me. One of those skating program moments I’m always going to remember.
I didn’t quite feel the connection to it until he started with the footwork. I looked over my previous (and only other mention of him) post and I said that his footwork looked impossible- like no person should be able to do it with that ease.

What I didn’t know going into this until the commentators mentioned it… Plushenko was skating with an ankle injury… just HOW… how does he skate through injury and make it look like nothing?
“It’s very mental with him”- according to one of the commentators at the 2012 Europeans
There wasn’t one moment during any of the programs where I saw anything wrong with him.

If anything was wrong, it was the choreography. His 2nd free skate was… I hate to say it, but it wasn’t good. It kinda felt like a mess. And I was seeing it after Yagudin’s “Man in the Iron Mask” program.
I found out watching the ladies’ free skates that he won and I was ready to boo and throw a fit…

Then I saw the “Man in the Iron Mask” program… it scared the hell out of me, honestly… because I LOVED it.
I never wanted to be in the position where I wasn’t supporting Plushenko in this whole rivalry- but he seriously had the better program and the better presentation.
Then when he gave the winner’s interview afterwards, he was eloquent and at least respectful. Saying he didn’t know how Plushenko (he pronounced his name with the Russian stresses- with the first part of the name stressed and the “o” being unstressed, so it sounded like “uh”).

I figured I’d go onto the 2000 GPF free skates to get all of this out of the way… then it was a HUGE relief to find that Alexei was injured and broke his boot so he couldn’t compete… if I saw him one more time that day, I don’t think I could handle it.

There were two occasions throughout the videos- only two- where I remembered the reasons why I don’t like. Or rather, reasons I didn’t want to like him as an athlete.
There was a “fluff” piece about their rivalry. In one moment, it showed Yagudin cheering/celebrating back stage when Plushenko made a mistake…
That’s just TERRIBLE sportsmanship. Especially in this sport where mistakes can lead to injury.

Then when he did his free skate after Plushenko performed, he asked if he nailed 2 quads… and then when he performed, he actually tried to do Plushenko’s quad-triple-double combination and he failed on the final jump.
I don’t care if he was trying to stay competitive with him, that was just STUPID. Risking himself on a combination just because his rival did it.

So in the 2000 GPF, it was interesting to see Plushenko going head to head with Elvis Stojko. Especially since Elvis was one of those skaters he looked up to. And it looked like they had great respect for one another.
I wonder what the GPF in 2001 would have been like if Elvis Stojko had qualified (another skater beat him and out and didn’t do quite as well as the Russians)…

I ended the night on that note. Because there was no way I could have watched Plushenko anymore that night without Yagudin in the back of my mind- that fancy footwork.
I love Plushenko’s step sequences, probably more than any other element. It’s insane to me that any other skater could be better than him… but to be fair, Plushenko just kept on improving after his first Olympics.

At the end of the day, I’ve gone through so much with Plushenko in this past year (almost two years, actually) and he’s had decades of experience. Alexei Yagudin has his own legacy, but it isn’t nearly as long and brilliant.

It was interesting to see Yagudin with the crowd and how he performed to them and they both enjoyed each other.
I thought that he seems like a decent, likable person… EXCEPT when it concerns Evgeni Plushenko.
And for that reason alone, despite how impressive his skating was, it’s why I can’t completely respect him as a person.

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