VANCOUVER, Canada, AFP
Three-time world champion Alexei Yagudin wants to offer himself a 21st birthday present to remember at the World Figure Skating Championships here this week. The Russian, who celebrated his birthday Sunday, is bidding to join the elite band of skaters who have won four consecutive world titles. “I think the best present at this moment would be to win the worlds. It would be great, really amazing for me,” said the Connecticut-based Yagudin. But the competition is getting tougher and standing in his way is former training partner and now arch-rival Yevgeny Plushenko, a teenager who says his “dream is to do everything in quads”. “When I won the first world title in Minneapolis, I thought that was the most difficult battle of my life. But each one gets harder and harder,” admitted Yagudin. He was outdueled by 18-year-old Plushenko at the Grand Prix final last month after being pushed into second at the European championships for the second straight year in January. But two-time European champion Yagudin is not quite ready to give up the battle, at least not until he has won the title which has eluded him — an Olympic gold. “It’s good to win but I realise that it’s impossible to win everything. I see Elvis Stojko and realise that every skater has ups and downs. “If I don’t win here I’ll fight next year for the worlds and Olympics. And I still think I’ll be able to skate in 2006 (at the Olympics).” But the worlds always seem to bring out Yagudin’s best performances. “The hardest thing is to win worlds. Last year I was so bad during the season and won the worlds and that changed everything. It’s the last event of the season and it can change everything,” added Yagudin. Plushenko wants to put his nightmare fourth finish in Nice last year behind him and achieve his first world title after bronze in 1998 and silver in 1999. “I learned something,” said the St. Petersburg-based skater of last year’s experience.”I thought too much about a medal. But it’s also my big dream to win the worlds. I want to win it.” And this time round he is hoping to show his versatility by becoming the first skater ever to perform to different music in the qualifying and free skating programmes. “I just want to show that I can do different programmes,” Plushenko said. “Each skater always wants to do something better, to improve. My dream is to do everything in quads. In practice I’ve tried every quad including the quad lutz.” In the men’s competition, the battle with be between the two Russians. But Plushenko denies that his relationship with Yagudin, who used to train with him under coach Alexei Mishin, was anything other than rivalry. “It’s a normal relationship. We’re not friends, but we’re talking to each other. I’m not angry at anyone,” added Plushenko. Both begin their title bid in Monday’s qualifying round which counts for 20 percent of the marks, with Tuesday’s short programme counting for 30 percent and Thursday’s all deciding free skating programme the final 50 percent.