The Leading Men of Russian Figure Skating

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I grew up watching professional figure skating every winter and while I had my favorites from many different countries, the Russian skaters who were competing under the men's singles category always drew my attention the most. They were daring and graceful on the ice, and I'd wait during every competition hoping to see them skate.

Here is a look at the top three men of the past four Olympics:

Ilia Kulik

Ilia was the first of the Russian figure skaters that I cheered for and the only one I've had the opportunity to see skate in person. As a little girl, I thought he was the most handsome man on the ice, and I certainly wasn't alone in that. In 1998, Kristi Yamaguchi told People magazine, "He's the Leonardo DiCaprio of figure skating." I don't think that statement was hard to agree with.

By the time I saw Ilia perform in person in 2009, he had grown up from the early DiCaprio days, but he had not lost a bit of his charm and demeanor. While some skaters always looked very technical on the ice, Ilia floated. One of my favorite performances of his that demonstrates his weightless style would be his 1997 performance of Liebestraume. Though not his famous yellow-and-black-clad rendition of Rhapsody in Blue from the 1998 Olympics (which won him gold), this performance shows his promise.

Alexei Yagudin

The thing I loved most about Alexei is that he always skated with a smile on his face and evident passion in whatever program he performed. Though he never disappointed me with a performance, I still love his 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic performance of "Man in the Iron Mask" the best. Although Evgeni Plushenko technically scored higher than Alexei in their long programs, Alexei won the gold medal overall.

In fact, as stated on Alexei's website, he is the only skater to win four major titles in the same year (2002): the European Championship, the Grand Prix Final, the World Championship, and the Olympics. The Olympics nearly stirred up a bit of a scandal for him as a wayward camera person found their way backstage with him as he was changing. The entire live audience (myself included) caught a glimpse of the handsome shirtless skater, but we almost caught more than that. Thankfully, for Alexei, the camera was cut just as he was sliding off his pants and before anything else could occur. In the days of real live TV, anything could have happened.

Evgeni Plushenko

The current Russian king of the ice. Evgeni, who was once known only for his incredible talent and untouchable scores, is unfortunately recognized now for his ungrateful attitude upon winning silver -- and not gold -- at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He even went so far as to briefly state on his official website that he'd won not a silver medal but a platinum one. I'm not sure whether that announcement made him feel better or not, but it certainly made a crowd of international fans lose respect for him.

Still, when I think of Evgeni I remember holding my breath during his 2006 Olympic long program to "The Godfather," waiting to see if he'd really win the gold medal. And after he did, I remember watching the Gala and his final performance of his short program "Tosca," paired with an incredible live performance by violinist Edvin Marton. Evgeni's footwork in this program alone is enough for me to love his talent forever.

But has his attitude changed any from the 2010 Olympic fiasco? The upcoming seasons will tell.

Lissa has followed all categories of professional figure skating since childhood and has attended professional exhibitions whenever possible.

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