Olympics: Yagudin gold provides relief from scandal

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The Independent Online

For once this week, at least, skating meant something other than scandal. The judges' marks for Alexei Yagudin at the end of the men's free programme here included an unprecedented four 6.0s for artistic impression, confirming him as Olympic champion. And the result, after the Russian's virtually flawless programme, was greeted by nothing other than rapturous applause.

For the 21-year-old from St Petersburg, the fact that he had become the fourth consecutive winner of this event from the former Soviet Union was an irrelevance. As he stood atop the podium, pumping his fists in triumph, he was celebrating not just victory, but release.

For the last four years, Yagudin has been involved in a war of words with Alexei Mishin, the coach whom he left shortly after finishing fifth at the Nagano Olympics. While Yagudin moved to New Jersey to join another Russian coach, Tatiana Tarasova, Mishin remained in Russia overseeing the career of the man whose growing rivalry with Yagudin had begun to create problems, Evgeni Plushenko. And since then, Mishin has criticised Yagudin for deserting his mother country and questioned his mental strength, particularly over the last year, when his former charge has employed a sports psychologist.

"For four years, so much garbage was thrown in my face, with people saying I'm not such a good skater," Yagudin said at the post-event press conference, gesturing towards Mishin as he sat alongside Plushenko.

"I've been keeping this to myself until I won, but it has been stimulating me for four years of my life. I employed a sports psychologist because I had problems last year. I don't care what people said about that, because now I am Olympic champion."

That ambition was made easier for him after Tuesday's short programme, where the 19-year-old Plushenko dropped to fourth place after a fall. Yagudin, who entered the free programme in gold medal position, knew that if he avoided any mistakes in his "Man In The Iron Mask" programme, the title was his. He delivered, with only the faintest hint of a fault on one landing, then fell on all fours and kissed the ice before sliding over towards the seated Tarasova on his knees.

Plushenko earned the silver medal with a dramatic performance to Carmen, while Timothy Goebel, of the United States, took bronze after becoming the first man in Olympic history to land three quads in a single routine. Goebel, whose ability to land skating's most difficult jump has earned him the title of the Quad King, said he was surprised to have won his medal. "It's unbelievable. I came here with no expectations."

For Goebel's veteran colleague Todd Eldredge, however, the evening turned out less well. Despite getting a standing ovation before he began his routine, a fall as he attempted a quad toe loop effectively ended his chances. He finished sixth, and without a medal to show for three Olympic appearances.

But Yagudin, whose score of four perfect marks has only been bettered in Olympic competition by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's maximum of nine in winning the 1984 title, knows that sometimes dreams do. "I don't care what happened in the pairs," he said, brushing aside the invitation to become involved in the judging controversy presently convulsing these Games. "I know I really deserve what I'm wearing around my neck."

Britain's men's curling team, with Hammy McMillan standing down for a second occasion, effectively lost any hope of progressing to the semi-finals as they were beaten 6-4 by Finland after conceding three shots on the final end.

With only four round robin games remaining, Britain's record of one win and four defeats will almost certainly confirm them as one of the also-rans. "This was a really tough defeat," said Warwick Smith, who moved up the order to take McMillan's position as skip. "I think we made an error on the ninth end – we should have been a bit more aggressive." Unfortunately the group of wives and other British supporters who were due into Salt Lake City last night would have nothing to cheer other than a series of dead rubbers.

Chemmie Alcott, competing in her first Olympics aged 19, produced one of the more respectable British performances of recent times as she finished 14th in the Combined downhill-slalom. Alcott, who has raced only on the Europa Cup circuit this season, was 8.06sec adrift of the winner, Janica Kostelic.

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