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Three-time World Champion Alexei Yagudin is at Home on Newingtin Ice

by Karen May, Sports Editor, Newington Life, Vol. 6, Issue 2, Dec. 01

What area attraction would bring four french tourists to Newington?

If you are a fan of figure skating or savvy about what's going on in town, your answer would be one of the elite skaters, specifically Alexei Yagudin, the three-time World Champion who makes his home in Whethersfield and calls the rink at the Connecticut International Skating Center his home ice.

The four french women in question are officers of the Alexei Yagudin Worldwide Fan Forum.* Contacted at the group's website, President Anne Lariviere's enthusiasm for her favorite skater knows no limits. She responded to a recent inquiry about photos with this subtle remark, "By the way, I visited your area last summer. I stayed at the Atlantic Inn in Whethersfield with three friends of mine from the AYWFF and we went to the Newington rink to see the skaters train. It was a very interesting and enjoyable experience."

Sadly limited in knowledge of figure skating as a sport, I crammed pre- and post- interview with the 21 year old Yagudin, whose hectic schedule allowed just about an hour before he headed to Bradley International Airport to head for the Skate Canada competition, which he went on to win. "Pretty much from now, at least for the next four to six months, I am competing a lot." He said, comparing skating with another soprt, "In skating, there are six Grand Prix, like Formula One racing does."

Yagudin's scheduled competitions range from now until well after the Olympics. Yagudin's itinerary will take him from Paris for the Trophee Lalique, to Nagano, Japan, where he hopes to win back his World title. Somewhere in there are the Russian Nationals in Moscow, the European Championship in Switzerland and the Olympics in Salt Lake City.

When informed that last year's show was this reporter's first time at a skating event, Yagudin smiled wryly, adding, "that shows".

He takes the compliment about goose-bumps raised by his dramatic presentation in stride, after all, for the last decade, he has ridden the crest of a celebrity wave that started when he was a junior skater. "When I was eleven or twelve is when I knew I could do this." he said, gesturing towards the ice rink. Capturing the skating world's attention, the extremely photogenic skater already had a World Championship while still living in his native St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Russia.

The only child of divorced parents, he chose Tatiana Tarasova to be his coach. That necessitated his move to the United States. "I never thought about coming to the US." he said. He described the experience of moving from a small apartment that he shared with his mother, grandmother and another family, in two and a half rooms, to the expansiveness here in the states, "You cannot live in this country without a car. Here, the highways go so far. It was so different from home; it was hard to adapt to US life, though being young helped." he said, flashing that wry smile again.

"I had a map of the world on the wall of my home in Russia, and to this day, I underline the places I've been to after going there." said Yagudin, who finds the world travel that his sport demands, as a favorable thing.

A Drive to be Perfect

The Yagudin official site lists "driving fast" as one of his hobbies. Yagudin himself, in this Olympic year, is driven by what he called sometimes almost too much pressure. On the ice, he strives for perfection. "There is a big group of skaters who are trying to get to number one, too. People think it's easy that I only spend two hours on the ice practicing," he explained. "There are interviews to do, dealing with media, going to Healthtrax up on the hill, many things to do that are part of my life."

Echoing a sentiment of U Conn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, Yagudin said about being number one, "It's harder to stay a World Champion than it is to get there." He said, because of that, he has added a sports psychologist to his training regimen. He relies on other skaters in the group that came here to train. "If I had stayed in my country, the rinks are smaller and the ice melts a lot." he said. Some of the funding for training expenses comes from the Russian Olympic Committee.

"At first, I had a condo that was real close." Yagudin explained about the change in living situations that brought him to a small apartment in Wethersfield, "It is completely my own and so quiet compared to Saint Petersburg. I had to move from being so close because everyone would come to visit there."

One of his dreams that became a reality when he moved to the states two and a half years ago was getting a dog. "I always dreamed to have a Cocker Spaniel," he said. "My mother didn't really like dogs, but she has grown to love Lawrence, who will be staying with her in Russia." The dog was named for the Lawrence of Arabia routine that Yagudin successfully competed with, for his second World Championship. His mother has been to visit him and he would love to have both her and his grandmother to move here to the states. "after the Olympic season, we'll figure that out." he said.

He said he is glad he will be in his native country for New Year's Day, which he described as "...more of a big holiday than Christmas is here. We have Christmas in January." the Russian Orthodox-bred skater added.

Yagudin often mentioned the uncertainty facing many in this country and elsewhere. "You never know what will happen." he said, referring to the World Trade towers tragedy. For instance, both figure skaters and hockey players can no longer carry their skates on airline flights. ""I've already had my skates arriving a day later for competition." he said. When asked if he has favorite skates, he responded with a question of his own, "Do you have a favorite pen or pad?"

Here in the Newington area, his favorite things to do include, "...renting a lot of movies and bowling." When asked about his bowling skills, he answered succinctly, "I'm a better skater." He likes the Bowl-O-Rama because it's open at times that are compatible with his schedule. With Japanese being his favorite food, he feels he has a wide choice of restaurants. He also enjoys going to West Hartford Center, where the outdoor eateries are more familiar to him. He claims to like all kinds of music, "...even some rap and hip-hop with rhythms I can use when I skate."

His agent, Dmitri Goryachkin, works for the prestigious IMG agency. "He gets me some modeling for me without ice." Yagudin said. Skating fans need not fear that he is going to abandon his sport, though he does foresee coaching in his future. His major was Coaching at the Academy of Sports and Physical Culture in his home country, and he is not "just another pretty face", since he graduated second in his high school class.

Yagudin is second to none when it comes to his fans' loyalty; there are almost 30 websites dedicated to the skater.

He is obviously a born performer. "I can hear the voices and what they're saying, and moreso at shows than in competitions." he said. "While competing, you can hear my heart going fast." he added, gesturing the movement of beating under his fleece jacket.

Yagudin zeros in on pretty girls in the stands and often includes them in his performances by going into the stands, much to the delight of his fans. He indicated that he doesn't have time with training and travel to have a relationship. "Besides," he said, this time with a gesture towards the rink, "the ice lady takes all my time."

He will be gone for three weeks on this particular trip. Stopping to take a case of his favorite Vespa sports drink that Bob Young, manager of the rink, has signed for from a delivery service, Yagudin posed for pictures, both inside and out in the sun, flashing a smile as bright as that sun. then, with a formal handshake, he is off to finish packing and continue on his quest.

(*Actually, only two of the officers present were French women. Other AYWFF officers hail from Germany and the USA...a minor faux

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