The showman in Alexei Yagudin is looking forward to skating in the Stars on Ice tour tonight at MCI Center.
The competitor in him is hoping he'll be able to return to the same building for the World Championships in March. At the moment, the Russian Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion isn't certain if he will make that second trip to the District.
He has been battling a serious hip injury for nearly a year, but it was so troublesome that he was forced to withdraw from Skate America and the rest of the major international competitions this season. Although he has been able to compete in some relatively minor competitions and will be touring with Stars on Ice, he said he still cannot practice difficult quadruple jumps.
"It all depends on how my hip feels," Yagudin said of competing in the World Championships, set for March 24-30. "There is still a tiny chance that I will be there."
Yagudin, 22, has met with doctors and therapists in the United States and Canada but has not undergone surgery. He has simply rested and done more stretching exercises to decrease the inflammation.
Still, he has signed a contract with Stars on Ice, which stops in 61 cities. The show at MCI Center is the fourth stop on the tour. He skated with the tour before the Olympics and credited Scott Hamilton and Kurt Browning with helping him become more of a performer rather than just a quality jumper and spinner. These days, Yagudin is known among skating fans for his entertaining and intricate footwork as well as his quadruple jumps.
"I love Stars on Ice because you get a chance to show yourself and skate with others," said Yagudin, who is part of a cast that also features two-time Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt, six-time U.S. titlist Todd Eldredge and Canadian Olympic pairs champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. "It's not a show about jumps. It's about skating. It's hard work, but it's different work than competing."
Yagudin has such a zest for competition that he is glad he didn't have to choose. When the hip injury flared at Skate America, he was concerned he might never be able to compete again.
"The pain came back at Skate America and I panicked," he said.
Even though he hasn't skated in a major competition since Skate America, just being able to participate in a few pro-ams has made him realize his passion for that side of the sport. He won two events, but they were not nearly as demanding as the Grand Prix circuit.
Ever the competitor, Yagudin said he did not want to enter the World Championships just for the sake of competing again. If he decides to return to Washington, he plans to save room in his suitcase for a gold medal.
"After a year like this, you would think I'd be happy just to participate," he said. "But I always compete for the gold. I need to win. That's why I want to make sure I'm healthy. I'm not just going to go to worlds just to go."
Even if he doesn't compete in the World Championships this year, there's no reason to believe he won't train for the next season or for the 2006 Games. The last male skater to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals was Dick Button in 1948 and 1952.
Skaters like Yagudin are fortunate these days that they don't have to sacrifice earning a living while remaining eligible for Olympic competition. The only way they become ineligible is if they skate in an event that is not sanctioned by the International Skating Union.
"I want to stay eligible," Yagudin said. "I don't want to turn pro right now. I'm really thankful I did the competitions and I pushed myself. What I have done all my life is practicing and competing. That's my job. That's my life."
He also knows that at this stage in his life he needs to make a living, too. His contract with Stars on Ice is worth an estimated $275,000.
"Of course money is a part of skating, but I like my work," Yagudin said. "It's not like cutting grass or something."
Even though Yagudin has become somewhat of a celebrity in the United States, he has not been able to cash in on many endorsement deals. His female counterpart in Salt Lake City, Sarah Hughes, has had her face on Wheaties boxes and has signed deals with major companies like General Electric. The only large purchase Yagudin has made since winning the gold is a Mercedes.
"Do not forget that I'm Russian and it's hard to get endorsements," said Yagudin, who lives and trains in Connecticut. "And I'm fine with that. I don't need a lot."
In his native Russia, people know who he is but he said he didn't even crack a list of the nation's top 10 athletes.
"It's okay," he said. "I'm really happy. My coach is happy and my mom is happy."
And if the pain in his hip goes away, he'll be that much happier.