Interview: Evgeni Plushenko on Yuzuru Hanyu And Figure Skating’s Future

Figure skating legend Evgeni Plushenko is a double Olympic and three-time world champion.

The Russian won individual silver aged 19 at Salt Lake City in 2002 before taking gold in Turin four years later.

He won another silver at Vancouver 2010 and helped Russia to team gold on home ice at Sochi 2014.

So who better to talk to about the future of Yuzuru Hanyu, Evgenia Medvedeva and the direction the sport is taking?

Plushenko officially retired in March last year and is now coaching the stars of the future including his five-year-old son Alexander.

“The first time I saw Zagitova live, I thought, ‘This girl will win.’ And my wife said, ‘No, Medvedeva will win.’ I have a lot of money right now.”

OLYMPIC CHANNEL: Hi Evgeni, How’s retirement treating you?

Evgeni Plushenko: “Well, life is great. I competed for more than 20 years and, of course, I liked that life. And I like the life I have right now. I have a family, I have a beautiful wife, I have kids. My wife and I have four sons.

“I have my school, ‘Angels of Plushenko’. I’m quite busy. I have over 60 shows in Japan alone. I created them with my wife and my partner. We’ve done ‘Fairytales’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘The Snow King’ and now we’ve created ‘Swan Lake’ with the Bolshoi with a live orchestra. So life is great.

“I keep going, keep doing, work. I can’t sit at home. I need to run. I need to skate. I need to play golf. Also, I play hockey. And this year I won with my team. It’s like amateur events, but it’s only been one season and we won. Also, I play football and I am an ambassador for FIFA.”

Друзья ,привет из страны восходящего солнца , из Японии , в рамках FIFA и Чемпионата Мира по футболу @mbrussia запустили Mercedes-Benz Fan Club, который объединяет фанатов футбола и бренда Mercedes !Для этого мы создали приложение, где все желающие смогут следить за новостями футбола, бренда, участвовать в конкурсах и посещать эксклюзивные мероприятия от Mercedes ⚽️⚽️⚽️ Ребята, @mbrussia дарит всем отличный шанс заглянуть за кулисы главного футбольного праздника нашей страны. Скачайте приложение Mercedes-Benz Fan Club и Вы сможете выиграть уникальные призы 💪🏻 ссылка на приложение в моем профиле

A post shared by Евгений Плющенко (@plushenkoofficial) on

OC: You were a spectator at Pyeongchang 2018. How would you say skating has evolved since Sochi 2014?

EP: “For example, in Vancouver 2010, we had the short program and only one skater (male) did a quadruple. At that time, we had 30 people who were performing. In the long program only one person did a quadruple jump. If you jump a quadruple, the judges gave you some more points.

“In Sochi four years later, the system had changed a little. Four years later, all quads. Take Yuzuru Hanyu for example. For me he is number one.

“Nathan Chen, American skater, great, jumped all quads. We could take seven or eight people right now who can jump all quads.

“It has completely changed for the ladies. Ladies (used to just do) triple axels. Ladies started jumping quadruples.

“We have many skaters, not many skaters, a few skaters in Russia. (Alexandra) Trusova for example. She is 13 years old. She can jump three quadruples. That’s amazing.

“We also have (Anna) Shcherbakova. The new girl, 14 years old. She also jumps quadruple.

“Figure skating moves so fast and I think in the future, maybe 10, 20 years from now, we will see huge innovation in jumps… I saw very good jumps from Hanyu – four and a half rotations – awesome. So maybe in 10 years maximum and we will see a new record from the kids.”

OC: You've singled Hanyu out as an exceptional skater. What makes him unique?

EP: “Well, I think he works a lot. He likes to skate. He enjoys it when he is performing. He has charisma. I like his jumps. I like his choreography. I like his spins.

“I don’t know how to say it in English… if we (follow his example) – he does the everything: jumps, spins. He’s what we need in figure skating.

“Choreography, skating skills… we have other skaters who are good jumpers but their choreography is not quite (as) good. Not enough to take in the audience.”

OC: Hanyu already has two Olympic gold medals. Do you see him making it three-in-a-row at Beijing 2022?

EP: “I would like to see him at the Olympic Games and he can win. And I think he will try. He will skate. He will perform. For sure, he can make it because he is a crazy guy.

“I’ve known him since he was eight or nine years old. He came with his old coach. We came to talk.

“He said, ‘I like how you skate. Can you watch my jumps?’ When he jumped his rotation was so quick and so fast… most of the skaters do easy jumps, but he does the hardest one.

“He is crazy. Like I said, he is from a different planet.”

OC: Tell me about his jumps. Do you think he'll achieve a quadruple axel soon?

EP: “I think he will work (on it). I know that he will work before the Olympic Games. I think he would like to make history.”

OC: Nathan Chen grabbed headlines with six quad jumps in his routine at Pyeongchang 2018. You've got Vincent Zhou doing the quad lutz...it's all moving in (a very technical) direction. Do you think the artistic side is suffering?

EP: “Right now, our system of judging men’s figure skating is (focused on) technique and now the International Skating Union wants to present a new system. They (want to) cut the music.

“If we have, for example, the long programme with a 4:30 maximum, the suggestion is that they cut the timing to 4:10 maximum. I suggest that we give it a little bit more time, five minutes. Why would I suggest that?

“If, for example, Nathan Chan, Yuzuru Hanyu, they will jump one axel or they will jump quadruples, they need to rest a little bit, they need to show the audience not only jumping.

“If you cut the music, we are going to see only jumps—jump, jump, jump, jump! I suggest 10 or 15 seconds so the skaters can skate, present themselves and their programs and not rush… so we wait for the new rules.

“But everybody, the skaters and the coaches, many people say this is not good if they bring in the new rules.”

OC: And do you think that figure skating should remain a mixture of art and sport?

EP: “Of course. This is art, this is sport. This is extremely nice. This is ballet on ice. This is theatre.

“Of course you can’t speak but you show with your moves, with your charisma, with your face and your body.

“Figure skating is a very hard sport. Figure skating combines many sports and many arts, ballet, like I say. And you have to land one foot on a very thin blade. It’s a very hard sport.”

OC: Let's talk about the female Olympic champion, Alina Zagitova. How do you view her as a skater?

EP: “I like how she performs and her jumps, they’re very sporty jumps, big ones, classical. She is a great one.

“I bet with my wife about who is going to win the Olympic Games. We had the European Championships in Russia, before the Olympic Games.

“Performing that time were Zagitova and (Evgenia) Medvedeva. The first time I saw Zagitova, I saw her live and I thought, “this girl will win.” And my wife said, “No, Medvedeva will win.” I also bet with my manager. I have a lot of money right now.”

OC: Medvedeva is going to work under Brian Orser. What do you think of her decision to leave Russia and join Brian?

EP: When the Olympic Games finished, I wrote to one journalist – we were writing together about the Olympic Games – and I said in my post that one girl from (coach Eteri) Tutberidze will leave. Medvedeva or Zagitova.

Because I used to skate and train with one good skater: (2002 Olympic champion) Alexei Yagudin. And we used to train together. And when we started to compete at the Olympic Games, European Championships, Russian nationals, Grand Prix, we started to be competitors.

And Alexei moved to another coach. I stayed with my coach. I know that situation. If you have two top skaters, you need to share them.

We have fewer than two or three practices a day on the ice. You need to split good athletes. For example, 9am until 10am one skater, 11 to 12 the other one. That’s (not) going to work.

OC: So you saw this coming...

EP: What do I think about Medvedeva? It’s sport. We need to take and we need to choose for the result (that we want).

If she feels comfortable training in Canada and training with Brian Orser… he is a great coach. He has already coached many Olympic champions. If she feels good, then why not?

She is still competing and representing my country Russia. Why not? It’s her choice.

OC: You are coaching skaters as well. How would you train the next Olympic champion? What do you focus on?

EP: You know, I train right now small kids. We have six-year-olds and four-year-olds. We have only a few 16-year-old kids. But I look forward to working with small kids and bringing them to the podium.

Life is always giving surprises. Maybe I will never coach an Olympic Champion. Maybe or maybe not. But I try.

I start at 6:30am and finish 6pm. And always with the boots on the ice. I have good kids in my school right now, but they are young.

I have five, six little girls, but the figure skating gives us surprises especially with the girls, when they are becoming ladies.

It’s easier working with men or boys. But, of course, I would like to bring the new champion. I will work on that, but I need time. I just started coaching one year ago. I am a young coach.

OC: Do you find skating more fun or more frustrating as a coach?

EP: No, it’s not fun. It’s for sure not fun. My little one Alexander, he is five years old. He started practising twice a day, three practices a day, when he was four. So one year he is practising so strong.

I did my competition… it has gained 150 kids at my kids skating from academy. I was nervous. I said to myself, ‘Maybe it’s better if I skate.’

When I perform I am not nervous, when I skate at competitions, when I am doing a show. When I saw my kids as athletes… I started to get nervous. Especially with my son, when he started to compete for the first time. But he did good. He won.

It’s not fun for sure. It’s hard work. And now I understand the teachers and the coaches. It’s so hard.

OC: Let's talk a bit more about your son. Everyone sees him following in your footsteps. Is your son going to be an Olympic figure skating champion?

EP: Only one guy knows. God. Right now, he practises – two or three (times) a day. Also dancing.

What is great is that he likes to skate. He likes to learn. He likes jumps. This is already great.

A lot of kids now they are playing computer. I have friends who have kids. Morning, daytime, breakfast, lunch… they are going in the car (looking at screens), it’s no good I think.

Sometimes (it’s OK) to see the cartoons. But not all day and every day. So I think he can be a good athlete. I don’t know about Olympic champion or world champion, we will see.

OC: What characteristics do you see in your son?

EP: If (he) wants it, he’s going to take it. He is the same (as me).

For example, when I was a kid I told my mother, “I will be Olympic champion and I will be a world champion.”

I remember it was so hard to train, but I had my dream, what I said to my mother and my father, ‘I will be top on the podium.’ He is the same.

OC: Do you see yourself in your son when he skates?

EP: Not yet. Not yet. But he is five.

OC: Did you watch the Olympic Games with him? Did he say anything about being Olympic champion?

EP: Yes, Olympic Games. Male event. Ladies event. When he looked at the TV on the screen, he asked me, “What is that? What is that jump?” He knows all the jumps…All the kids learn so fast.

Maybe it is my just son, but I think all of them (learn quickly). We watch hockey and soccer too. My plan was not figure skating, it was soccer or hockey for the little one.

OC: Why not figure skating? That's a surprise for most people.

EP: I would like to learn a different sport. Then I decided that it would be a good idea to learn with my son. But when I gave him the figure skating boots, he started to walk.

After one month, he said, ‘Papa, I don’t want anything (else). I want to do figure skating.’ I said ‘OK, if you want.’

I waited another few months and, ‘Maybe hockey?’ ‘No, father, thank you. I would like to skate.’

OC: He's happy. Are you disappointed?

EP: No, no, no, I am happy. Maybe my wife and I, we are going to have more kids and they will play a different sport!

Evgeni Plushenko was this week’s big interview on the Olympic Channel Podcast. Each Wednesday we talk about the big sporting topics and find the world’s best Olympians to ask their advice. We want you to think like an Olympian.

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