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Mishin says Plushenko is better than ever

Coach gives himself lion's share of the credit, too

Alexei Mishin says Evegeni Plushenko is in top form headed into the men's competition.
Alexei Mishin says Evegeni Plushenko is in top form headed into the men's competition. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/14/2010) - Most people in skating figure it doesn't matter where Evgeni Plushenko skates in the short program; the all-mighty Russian, who is up tenth in the order, is bound to turn his powerful quad-triple combination, triple Axel and dramatic steps into a top-place finish.

At the European Championships in Tallinn last month, the reigning Olympic champion, who returned to competition this season after a three-year break, skated his short well before all of his top rivals and still managed to earn 91.30 points, more than 13.55 points more than eventual silver medalist Stéphane Lambiel scored.

But the skater's coach, Alexei Mishin, isn't a man who likes to take chances with judges. He's worried that the seeded draw, used here at the Olympics for the first time, puts his man at a disadvantage to skaters like Evan Lysacek and Jeremy Abbott, who are ranked within the ISU's top ten and drew for places in the last two warm-up groups.

"I preferred the system they used in Torino, when anybody [could] get any number," he said. "If you get the right to [compete] at the Olympics, everyone should be [treated] equal."

The International Judging System (IJS), in use since 2004, is supposed to prevent judges from evaluating skaters based on reputation, but Mishin figures the panel is only human.

"The experience of the judges matters," he reasoned. "They think, 'Later group, better skaters.'"

Doesn't he think Plushenko's name might ring a bell?

"This is a secret," he said. "Anyway, it is not a time to criticize the new system."

Mishin, who likes to put on a show for the press, protested "It is better to skate than to talk. I don't like to do any press conference. I am not a real English-speaking man," before holding forth.

"My opinion on Evgeni, as his coach, is right now his level of skating is better than [it was] in Torino," he said. "The steps better, 100 percent. Spins better, 200 percent. Jumps are the same, not worse, clean.

"In previous years, Evgeni -- how can I tell this is a soft way? -- he did not completely measure his movements. Now every movement is measured...now he is more cooked. He is [like] an apple that has stayed on the tree longer."

Mishin, who won the 1969 world silver medal competing in pairs with another renowned Russian coach, Tamara Moskvina, began working with Plushenko in St. Petersburg when the skater he was 11.

Other students included 1994 Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov and 2002 Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin, who left Mishin's tutelage after winning his first world title in 1998.

The coach isn't shy about giving himself credit for Plushenko's successful return, saying the 27-year-old has enjoyed all the benefits of a teaching system that was perfected with those earlier champions.

"I was not surprised when Evgeni decided to come back; even at the beginning of the season I was sure he would be okay," he said.

"Let me talk not about him, but about myself for a moment...Before Evgeni came along, I created my way of teaching the jumps. Evgeni took the last portion of my system of teaching. I taught him the right way. If the technical side of his skating was not right, [it would be] very difficult to come back.

"I will not name names, but if a skater has the wrong take-off on a triple Axel, and then [he retires and] tries to come back, it will be very difficult. You can see that skater will not be able to do a triple Axel."

Here, Mishin may have been referring to Plushenko's longtime rival, Lambiel, who has been unable to land a triple Axel this season.

The coach left reporters with a proverb-like tale, although in true Mishin style, its meaning is mysterious.

"One time, [the] devil was organizing a competition between the underground and paradise," he said. "And God answered, you suggest a very silly thing; all the Olympic champions are up here with me, in the sky. But the devil answered, all the judges are down here with me."