The following year, ill with the flu, Yagudin placed only fifth at the Olympic Games in Nagano in 1998. However, he recovered in time for the world championships and won, to become, at age 18, the second youngest men's champion in history. Yagudin defended his world title in 1999 and then again in 2000, before slipping to second behind Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001.
For all of his international success, Yagudin's greatest triumph came at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. In Salt Lake City, he won the gold medal with such ease that he was the first male skater in 50 years to earn the first-place votes of every judge in all stages of the competition. His free skate, performed to the soundtrack of The Man in the Iron Mask, earned him scores of 6.0 for presentation from four of the nine judges. His total score for the free skate, 106.6 points out of a possible 108 points, was the highest ever recorded by an individual skater in the history of the Olympic Games.