Plushenko, Volchkova Speak On the Worlds

April 21, 2011 — 23:00

Plushenko, Volchkova Speak On the Worlds

April 21, 2011 — 23:00
South Korean star Yuna Kim performing the short program at the 2010 Olympics. Kim, as well as many figure skaters for Japan, will pose a challenge to the medal hopes of Russia's skaters.

The 2011 World Figure Skating Championships are arriving in Moscow with the sweet taste of the successful bid to host — and the bitter aftertaste of the tragic events that made it possible.

That was the perspective imparted by star performers in Russian figure skating – Olympic gold medalist Yevgeny Plushenko and Olympian and trainer Viktoria Volchkova – when they spoke with The Moscow Times on the eve of the championships.

Though the event is a chance to increase the sport's popularity and inspire future figure skaters in Russia, the series of tragedies that forced Japan to decline to host saddened the Russian skaters, many of whom have trained and competed with Japanese colleagues.

"There was great grief over what happened in Japan," Plushenko said in an interview Thursday. "My sympathies are with the Japanese. I love and respect this people. Over the years I've performed a lot in Japan."

Yet, the championships will help inspire a new generation to reinvigorate a figure skating legacy that has lost its luster in recent years, Plushenko said.

"It's very cool that six years later, another world championship will take place in Russia," he explained. "It's very good that Russian spectators will watch international athletes, the elites of figure skating. Our children ... will see the elegance of figure skating and learn a little."

The pre-eminent Russian skater, who won the men's singles competition at the world championships three times, wanted to compete at this year's championship. But Plushenko, who currently skates professionally, wasn't able to reinstate his amateur status in time.

Plushenko will attend the event to watch fellow greats, he said — and to scope out the competition that he will face if or when he returns to the competition circuit.

"I'm interested to watch Nobunari Oda, Daisuki Takahashi, Artur Gachinsky," Plushenko said, naming two leading Japanese skaters and a Russian skater who is both 17 years old and the highest-ranked men's figure skater among Russians.

"In general, in men's singles, I'm interested to watch my competitors for next season," Plushenko noted.

Well-known Volchkova called the event an "extra push" for Russian skating's popularity and development, and she said performing at home could give Russian skaters an advantage.

"The world championships will add popularity" for the sport in Russia, Volchkova said. "And for our athletes, of course, to perform on their home turf [will give] support and will make a big difference."

Both Plushenko and Volchkova said Russian skaters had a good chance of winning at the championships, especially in the pairs event, since the Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov have significant experience competing on the international level. Current Russian pairs champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have a lot of potential, Plushenko said, despite the fact that they teamed up only last year.

Still, the current Russian lineup hasn't yet reached the level of past Russian and Soviet greats, Plushenko said. Such pair skaters as Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze or Tatyana Totmyanina and Maxim Marinin were "great athletes, the elite of figure skating," Plushenko said.

"Currently [Russia has] quality athletes, professionals at what they do, but they still need to grow," he noted.

The new hope of Russian figure skating, according to Volchkova and Plushenko, is Gachinsky.

"He's mastered all the most complicated elements of figure skating," Volchkova explained. "He still needs a little time and experience," she said.

Plushenko predicted that overall, the Japanese and American teams will be the strongest at the championships. "I consider the Japanese team that's coming to the world championships No. 1 in both men's and women's singles," Plushenko said.

A Japanese sweep of the championships perhaps would carry some poetic justice. Volchkova said the Russians will give them a run for their money.

"In all categories, especially pairs, Russia has very strong athletes," she said. "They'll pose worthy competition."

Plushenko also thought the competition was worthy, but through a different lens.

"Of course — and I'm not embarrassed about this — I will learn from the new generation, from young athletes," Plushenko said. "I'll take some cool bits ... and put them in my own program."

Figures Offer Glimpse of Skaters

Hailing from Russia as well as other countries, Russia’s skaters in this year’s World Figure Skating Championships are defined by their numbers: rankings, ages and medal counts. But their backgrounds also are part of the picture. Look below for who has skater champion parents, who came close to an Olympic medal and who is ranked highest among Russian men though he’s also the youngest of them.

All rankings come from the International Skating Union, and skaters mentioned here without rankings aren’t listed in those ISU World Standings.


PAIRS

Yuko Kavaguti
Born in Aichi, Japan, in 1981
and Alexander Smirnov
Born in Tver in 1984
Brought home 3rd at last year’s Worlds
Came in 4th in 2010 Olympics
Kavaguti training in Russia since 2003

Vera Bazarova
Born in Yekaterinburg in 1993
and Yury Larionov
Born in Novosibirsk in 1986
Placed 8th at last year’s Worlds
Came in 11th at 2010 Olympics
Teamed up in 2005

Tatyana Volosozhar
Born in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, in 1986
and Maxim Trankov
Born in Perm in 1983
He placed 4th at last year’s Worlds with different partner
Also placed 7th at 2010 Olympics with different partner
She skated for Ukraine at 2010 Olympics, placed 8th

Katarina Gerboldt
Born in St. Petersburg in 1989
and Alexander Enbert
Born in St. Petersburg in 1989
He came in 24th at 2009 Worlds
No Olympics experience
She is ranked 55th worldwide
Teamed up only in spring 2010

Lyubov Ilyushechkina
Born in Moscow in 1991
and Nodari Maisuradze
Born in Lipetsk in 1988
No previous Worlds experience
No Olympics experience
Won the Worlds Juniors in 2009

MEN

Artur Gachinsky
Born in Moscow in 1993
Placed 3rd at last year’s Worlds Juniors
No Olympics experience
Ranked 13th in the world
Highest-ranked Russian men’s figure skater

Konstantin Menshov
Born in St. Petersburg in 1983
Placed 7th at this year’s European Championships
Didn’t take part in 2010 Worlds finals
No Olympics experience
Ranked 41st worldwide
Trains in Latvia, Sweden and Russia

LADIES

Alyona Leonova
Born in St. Petersburg in 1990
Placed 13th at last year’s Worlds
Came in 9th at 2010 Olympics
Ranked 8th in the world
Took up skating at age 4

Ksenia Makarova
Born in St. Petersburg in 1992
Placed 8th at last year’s Worlds
Came in 10th at 2010 Olympics
Ranked 13th in the world
Daughter of Soviet pair skaters Larisa Seleznyova and Oleg Makarov

ICE DANCE

Yekaterina Bobrova
Born in Moscow in 1990
and Dmitry Solovyev
Born in Moscow in 1989
Placed 8th in last year’s Worlds
Came in 15th at 2010 Olympics
Paired up in 2000
Her hobbies include biathlon, billiards

Yelena Ilinykh
Born in Shevchenko, Kazakhstan, in 1994
and Nikita Katsalapov
Born in Moscow in 1991
Didn’t take part in 2010 Worlds finals
No Olympics experience
Came in 4th at 2011 European Championships

Yekaterina Ryazanova
Born in Moscow in 1991
and Ilya Tkachenko
Born in Perm in 1986
No previous Worlds experience
No Olympics experience
Came in 6th in 2011 European Championships

Sources: The International Skating Union web site for the World Figure Skating Championships (http://www.isuworlds2011.com/participants.shtml); ISU World Standings for Single & Pair Skating and Ice Dance (http://www.isuresults.com/ws/ws/wsmen.htm and www.isuresults.com/ws/ws/wsladies.htm).

— Box written and compiled by Rachel Nielsen

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