Yagudin battling foot injury, but not skipping short program

Missing event could cause Russia to lose spot in 2002 Games

Figure Skating

March 21, 2001

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Alexei Yagudin has been through tougher times in his career.

At the 1998 Olympics, he finished fifth despite a bout with pneumonia. So a foot injury before the World Figure Skating Championships shouldnt be such a big deal.

But it is. Very big.

Yagudin, seeking his fourth straight world title, injured the soft tissue in his right foot while jogging last week in Connecticut. The pain worsened and he had a disastrous showing in Mondays qualifying round, finishing fifth in his group, barely completing some elements, totally flopping on others.

Knowing he would not endanger his chances of representing Russia in next years Olympics, Yagudin could have withdrawn from the world championships. Instead, he has taken two injections to deaden the pain, practiced early yesterday afternoon and was set to skate in the short program later in the day after yet another injection.

It is a little bit painful to skate, but it should not affect me to skate so bad, Yagudin said before practicing. The problem was I could not run and jump in warming up. I almost got up from bed and did a couple of things and went to skate. Usually I do 10 minutes of running and jumping to get a feel for it.

And maybe the pills I took for the pain affected me. I had never taken pills before. So everything added up.

It added up to the possibility of withdrawing from the event Yagudin has dominated since the Nagano Games in 1998. If he did drop out, however, Russia could lose a third spot at the Salt Lake City Olympics next year.

It would be easy not to compete, Yagudin said. But then just two guys get to go to the Olympics and I do not want my injury to decide that.

Yagudin recalled that in 1997, countryman Alexei Urmanov withdrew from worlds, costing Russia a third spot for Nagano. With Urmanov unable to recover in time for the Olympics, Yagudin and Ilia Kulik earned the spots. Kulik won the gold, while Yagudin gamely came in fifth despite his illness.

But the rules have changed. Yagudins withdrawal would only matter if Russias other two skaters perform poorly and have a total placing of 14 or higher.

Yagudin would not compare this physical problem to the 1998 Olympics, except to say, A human can fight in any situation.

My grandmother would tell me stories about when the Germans were attacking St. Petersburg and she chose to stay, he added. For 600 days, they fought the Germans and when I asked her what it was like, she said, A human can do anything. Continue to fight and you will win.

Dr. J. M. Leith, who gave Yagudin the injections after X-rays and an magnetic resonance imaging exam showed no bone damage in the foot, said the decision to compete was Yagudins.

Under normal circumstances, you might say dont compete, Leith said. But Alexei chose to compete based on what is at stake.

He has not torn any ligaments or anything. There is always the risk of further injury, but we dont think its that great a risk at all.

Yagudins mother told him that the Russian media criticized Mondays performance, blaming it on celebrations of his birthday, which was Sunday. Yagudin was placed on probation by the Russian federation in 1999 after he was dropped by the Champions On Ice skating tour for inappropriate behavior, reportedly due to heavy drinking.

But the aggressive treatments for his foot on Monday and yesterday made it clear he is injured.

The short program is worth 30 percent of the total score. The free skate, worth 50 percent, is tomorrow night.

Yagudins countryman and main rival, Yevgeny Plushchenko, won his qualifying group, followed by Americans Todd Eldredge and Timothy Goebel, Russias Alexander Abt and Yagudin. The other, weaker group, was won by Japans Takeshi Honda, with three-time world champion Elvis Stojko of Canada second.

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