Alexei Yagudin was introduced to skating at age four and encouraged by his mother, Zoya.
He learned all double jumps before age ten, the five triple jumps before age twelve, and the triple Axel jump before age thirteen. He was first coached by Alexander Mayorov and then introduced to the famous Russian coach Alexei Mishin when Mayorov moved to Sweden in 1992. Yagudin was trained in Mishin's group from 1992 to 1998. In 1994, He began competing internationally. In 1996, he won the World Junior Championships. The well-known rivalry between Yagudin and fellow Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko started when they were both trained in Mishin's group and became more fierce after Yagudin left Mishin's group.
In 1997, Yagudin competed in the World Championships for the first time and won a bronze medal.
In 1998, Yagudin won his first major title at the European Championships leading a Russian sweep of the medals, with Evgeni Plushenko in second and Alexander Abt in third. Later that year, he competed at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics fighting a severe case of pneumonia, and finished in 5th place. A month later, he won the World Championships. He became the first Russian from the post-Soviet Russia to win the World title, and being 18 years and 15 days old at the time of winning, he made the second youngest World Champion: 6 days older than Donald McPherson in 1963. About two months after the World Championships, Yagudin left Mishin and turned to the legendary Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova. Tarasova continued to coach him until his retirement in 2003.
During the 1998-1999 season Yagudin continued his success. He won eleven out of the total of thirteen competitions he participated, including defeating Kurt Browning in the World Professional Championships, winning the Grand Prix Final, and winning his second consecutive European title over both Plushenko and the former Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov. At the World Championships he successfully defended his World title defeating Plushenko, which also made his second consecutive World title.
Yagudin struggled at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season. He was first forced to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final due to a knee injury, and then lost to Plushenko at the Russian Nationals and the European Championships. However, he came back to win the World Championships, his third consecutive World title.
Yagudin's 2000-2001 season was marred by injuries and inconsistency. He concentrated on improving his artistic presentation and choreography, and the consistency of his jumps suffered. He lost to Plushenko at the Grand Prix Final, Russian Nationals, and the European Championships. A foot injury sustained shortly before the World Championships led to a disastrous performance in the qualifying round. He was placed only 5th in his group before the short program. However, he came back with a strong performance of the short program The Revolutionary Etude, winning a standing ovation and compliments of 'It was all about heart and guts'. He went on to win the silver medal.
Yagudin started the 2001-2002 Olympic season with a disappointing showing at the Goodwill Games in September, finishing 3rd. He made changes to his training regimen as a result of this, and then enjoyed the best season in his career. He defeated Plushenko at the Grand Prix Final and regained his European title. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Yagudin won the men's event, receiving first-place votes from every judge throughout the competition. He also received four 6.0 scores for his long program; this the most for an Olympic performance since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean had earned perfect marks for their free dance in 1984 and more than any other men's skater in the Olympics. Shortly after the Winter Olympics Yagudin won his fourth World title and received six perfect 6.0s in the short program and another two perfect 6.0s in the free skate, becoming the first skater to receive six perfect marks for the short program, including the first ever perfect mark for required elements. Because the International Skating Union introduced a new scoring system following the 2003 season, these scoring records cannot be equaled or broken.
After the Olympic season, Yagudin was diagnosed with a congenital hip disorder, and was advised by doctors to stay off the ice for several months. However, Yagudin chose not to follow this advice and nevertheless competed at the 2002 Skate America. There he won the short program, but had to withdraw due to the injury prior to the free skate portion of the event. Yagudin later announced his retirement from the eligible skating world. His final performance as an eligible skater came during a farewell gala at Skate Canada, performing a new program Memorial and his short program from the previous season, Racing.
Despite his many accomplishments, Yagudin never won the Russian National Championships.
Yagudin then turned professional in 2003, touring with Stars on Ice and Ice Symphony in Russia.
In 2004, Yagudin toured with Stars on Ice for the second year in a row. He also worked with the French figure skater Brian Joubert as a consultant coach. In November he won two professional competitions with two new programs, The Feeling Begins (music by Peter Gabriel) and Moon Over Bourbon Street (music by Sting). The next year, he continued with the Stars on Ice tour and his Passion program was choreographed with a difficult acrobatic routine that took place seven meters up in the air. Since returning to his hometown of Saint Petersburg in 2005, Yagudin has skated in various Russian ice shows and took part in the Russian TV show Stars on Ice, later renamed Ice Age.
In 2006, after a full Olympic cycle since Salt Lake City, Yagudin performed his famous Winter program on tour and a new program Sway (music by Pussycat Dolls). In fall he took part in the Russian TV show Stars on Ice having a former gymnast, Oksana Pushkina, as his partner.
In 2007, Yagudin first toured in the U.S. with the Stars on Ice, and then toured in Russia. He skated a comic number Blues for Klook and a flamenco number Legenda. In July 2007, Yagudin underwent surgery to have a titanium hip joint implanted. In August, Yagudin announced that he intended to return to eligible sports after more than four years of competing as a professional skater. His former coach Tatiana Tarasova and former choreographer Nikolai Morozov agreed to coach him should he return. However, Yagudin suffered another injury while on tour in November 2007. Afterward he stated that returning to competitive skating would be too difficult under the circumstances. He later realized that a return to eligible skating would not be feasible, and continued his professional career, taking part in the Russian TV show again, which was renamed Ice Age. This time he was paired with a pop singer Victoria Dayneko with whom he also recorded a song Needle.
In 2008, Yagudin finished the Ice Age tour and then made his debut on the stage in a theater play where he played a Russian President. His career as an actor continued with getting one of the main roles in a Russian TV series about figure skating My Hot Ice.[ In fall he participated in the second season of Ice Age partnered with actress Valeria Lanskaya.
In 2009, Yagudin performed regularly on the Ice Age tour. He also adventured into a popular TV show Good evening, Moscow! as a host. In fall he participated the third season of Ice Age, still paired with Valeria Lanskaya.
In 2010, Yagudin completed his third Ice Age tour. In June he skated in the Supermatch: Medalist on Ice show in Korea, performing Sway and Winter. On September 4, he participated in the Artistry on Ice show in Beijing. During the show, the wedding ceremony of the famous Chinese pair skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, the 2010 Olympic champions was held. As one of the invited guests he gave his blessing to the couple and performed Winter and Sway afterward. It was his first visit to China.
In 2011, Yagudin told an interviewer that due to the hip replacement surgery he had undergone, he is no longer able to do all his triple jumps. He continues to perform his popular Winter program in shows around the world.