November 30, 2005

Plushenko chases elusive gold

By Pritha Sarkar

LONDON (Reuters) - As a three-times world figure skating
champion Yevgeny Plushenko could have been forgiven for
thinking he was one of the most recognizable faces in Russia.

Just over 18 months ago, however, one person failed to
recognize the famed St Petersburg resident -- the woman who
eventually became his wife.

Plushenko spotted Maria Yermak for the first time when she
drove past him in an open-topped sports car and, despite their
low-key introduction, the couple tied the knot 12 months later
in June.

Their union gave the Russian skater a much-needed boost
while he recovered from groin surgery on both legs earlier this
year and he feels his wife's presence will help him to get his
hands on an elusive Olympic gold medal in February.

"Yes it's true she didn't know who I was when we first
met...but my wife is now my best friend and I love her and she
helps me a lot in my life, in my figure skating," Plushenko
told Reuters in a telephone interview from his practice rink in
St Petersburg.

"Having her around helps me and I now feel safe everywhere.
She gives me advice on, for example, how I can jump a quadruple
or whether she likes my steps (sequence). Her opinion is very
important to me."

For a man who has won six Russian national titles and four
European gold medals in addition to the three world crowns, the
Olympic accolade is the only notable prize missing from his
impressive collection.

Three years ago, the charismatic Plushenko arrived as the
defending world champion at the Salt Lake City Games but was
stopped from climbing to the top of the podium by compatriot
Alexei Yagudin.

This time he will travel to the Turin Olympics free of the
world crown, having been unable to defend the title in Moscow
last season due to injury.


After regaining his fitness following his operations in May
in Germany, the Russian is determined not to let Olympic gold
slip through his fingers again.

"Finally I'm healthy and everything's going well. I feel
good and am preparing for this hard season," said the

"I think everything's going to be alright. I can jump
quadruples, I can jump triple combinations and I expect a good

"Of course there is going to be pressure this year and I
just want to skate and I want to perform my best.

"I am going to (treat) the Olympics like a normal
exhibition or competition like the nationals, so if I approach
it like that I can win. I am going to treat it like it's
nothing special."

Known for his innovative routines, Plushenko is determined
to push the boundaries even further.

He was the first skater to land a 4-3-2 jump combination in
1999 and raised the stakes further in 2002 when he became the
first and so far only skater to complete a 4-3-3 combination.

His explosive footwork has won him an army of fans from
around the globe, with many of them running Web sites on
Plushenko with names such as 'King On Ice' and 'Balletic Tzar'.


After undergoing surgery for the first time in his career,
Plushenko has realized that his body has its limits and that
the 2006 Games could be his last chance at achieving Olympic

Determined to give something back to his faithful
supporters, Plushenko has mapped out his life until the men's
free skate at Turin's Palavela rink on February 16.

He easily won on his first outing this season, at the Cup
of Russia Grand Prix, and plans to compete in only two further
events over the next two months to preserve his best form for
the Winter Games.

"I'm a wealthy man now. I've got a flat, a car, I have
enough money to buy food. I skate to make the people happy.
It's pleasant to supply Russia with gold medals," said
Plushenko, who has already enjoyed success at the Palavela
having won the 2005 European crown there.

"Nothing's changed since the operation (with the way I
compose the routines). I'm doing hard practice, hard

"This year, I'm training six hours a day, six days a week.
Last year we trained for three or four hours a day but this
year I'm training six hours a day. So we are working more and
hard because after injury you need to work a little bit more.

"I've already competed in Turin, I know the
preparation is planned so that it will peak at the Olympics.

"I've given up everything that may get in the way of this
aim. I've even decided that I won't drink a single drop of
alcohol before the Games. Neither beer, nor champagne --