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On top of Mount Olympus: not resting on his golden laurels, figure skater Alexei Yagudin strives to maintain his edge.

Although only 23 years old, Alexei Yagudin dominates figure skating as the reigning Olympic Champion, four-time World Champion, three-time European Champion and the only skater to ever obtain the Triple Crown--an unprecedented win of all major titles in a single season. Some Olympic gold medalists have been long shots and, consequently, their startling victories were branded flukes or worse, lucky. Yagudin is not that brand of champion. He snatched his first world title when he was barely 18 years old--the second youngest man in the history of the sport to do so and his era of supremacy began.

Named one of the Top 50 Bachelors by People magazine last year, Athlete of the Year by Russian GQ magazine and with his autobiography to be released in January, Yagudin has earned an international following for his Hollywood good looks as well as Olympic star power. How he maintains his athletic prowess as one of the top male athletes in the world is a subject of fascination among his fans and consternation among his opponents.

Although the Connecticut resident admits being somewhat genetically gifted for ice skating, his success didn't come easily. Raised in Russia, an only child of a single parent, Yagudin's skating talent was his family's only hope to escape poverty and an uncertain future in the harsh former Soviet Union. In 1998, he moved by himself to the United States in search of better training facilities and more personalized coaching. He found it and, dozens of gold medals later, hasn't looked back.

While all skaters strive to maintain balance on the ice, Yagudin recognizes the need for balance in his workout regimen. A recent study determined figure skating one of the riskiest sports for injury due to overtraining and overuse (Dubravic-Simunjak 2003). Yagudin keeps his top Olympic physique by training hard, but not to the extreme.

"Compared to other athletes," he says, "my regimen is probably unique. Rather than just try to build muscle when I work out, I try to 'mimic' the actions I'll do on the ice during a competition. That means skating at high speed, going into a big jump, skating across the arena into another jump and then a demanding footwork sequence [with] a lot of quick starts and stops."

"When I'm exercising, I run 100 meters fast, jump, dash another 100 meters, drop to the ground and do push-ups, then run again," he recounts. "I keep the speed and motion constantly changing in rhythm and intensity,, just like on the ice. It's a great method to keep [a workout] fresh and interesting, rather than going mile after mile on a treadmill, which can get boring pretty last."

"Basically, I'm lazy," Yagudin demurs. Asked to elaborate on the far-fetched statement, he smiles and explains, "Well, I'm not lazy on the ice, but I like to sleep in late when possible, take a nap between practice sessions and I'm not the type to spend the whole day in a gym. I believe in quality versus quantity."

USA Today recently ranked figure skating's latest trademark move, the quadruple jump or quad (i.e., a four-revolution spin in the air), number six on its list of "10 Hardest Things to do in Sports" beating competing in the Tour de France. Enormous quadricep muscles allow Yagudin to launch intricate jumps, particularly the quad, which only a handful of skaters can consistently perform. "My legs are definitely my [strongest] body part. They were always strong, even as a child. If I had to defend myself in a fight," he laughs, "I'd use my legs." To keep them in shape during the summer off-season, he performs circuits on resistance weight machines targeting the legs and back and jogs outdoors for tip to 45 minutes.

In reference to his sculpted abdominal muscles, accentuated while doing crunches on an incline bench, Yagudin offers, "It's also really important to keep my back and abs strong for the jumps, to keep my body aligned properly. Back strength is overlooked by some skaters, but it's really helped my success as a jumper." However, he adds jokingly, "my back doesn't need the development of, for example, a pro wrestler." For his arms, he uses free-weights to maintain strength and flexibility as opposed to building bulk, since an overdeveloped upper body would slow rotation speed--critical for spins and jumps.

Although Yagudin has broken the record books by earning more perfect scores than any other man in his sport, he admits to not always being 100 percent disciplined when it comes to warm-ups and post-workout stretching. "We are all different--some skaters have to warm-up for half an hour; I need five or 10 minutes max. Basically my body warms up really fast," he says. "Even if I don't stretch afterwards, it doesn't seem to affect me. But, for most people, it will, so don't skip stretching."

Eating disorders are reportedly common among skaters, who are constantly criticized for the slightest appearance of weight gain. Asked about his diet, Yagudin states firmly, "I've never counted calories and never cared. That doesn't mean I don't watch my weight--I do--and weigh myself all the time because extra pounds are like dragging an anchor when trying to jump. But, I eat what I like and believe it's sometimes better to eat the food you most enjoy, even if it's higher in calories or fat." His frequent indulgence? Coffee-flavored Frappuccino[R]s.

When asked about the possible benefits for people considering recreational figure skating, Yagudin says it doesn't matter what activity you do, as long as you do something. "Skating is incredibly fun, but may not be accessible for everyone. You need to be a little bit careful of that which you've never done [and] might want to get instruction," he recommends. "However, any activity--skating, tennis, even riding a bike--is going to help keep you in shape, so just go out there and get moving!"

With a third Olympic appearance at the 2006 Winter Games not out of the question, Yagudin continues to train, compete and perform at a level that has nicknamed him "the busiest man in skating." Last year he performed in over 200 shows and events and this year he once again headlines the nation's major show tour, Smucker's[R] Stars on Ice[R], from December 2003 through April 2004. You can frequently catch him on televised broadcasts of major figure skating events throughout the winter season. However, to really appreciate Yagudin's unparalleled athleticism, nothing beats an on-ice seat at one of his Stars on Ice[R] performances. From that vantage point, you feel the rush of the wind as he flies by at stunningly high speeds and the ice isn't the only thing melting when you catch him smiling.

REFERENCES

Dubravic-Simunjak, Sanda, et al. "The Incidence of Injuries in Elite Junior Figure Skaters," The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 31 (2003): 511-7.

Kathleen Bangs is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A former commercial airline pilot with degrees in aeronautics and space studies, she writes about sports, celebrities and aviation for a number of national magazines and newspapers.
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Author:Bangs, Kathleen
Publication:American Fitness
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:1179
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