After Short Program, a Golden Chance for Eldredge
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 1998; Page C7
NAGANO, Feb. 12 — U.S. figure skater Todd Eldredge took the ice tonight determined to prevent disaster. His focus was not on winning the men's short program, but rather on not erring greatly. As Eldredge prepared to launch his combination jump, he found himself saying to himself: "Not like Albertville."
At the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, Eldredge made a mistake that put him out of the running for the men's singles gold medal. This time, he skated a clean short program and settled into third place — prime position to make a run at the gold — while Fairfax skater Michael Weiss suffered the scorching aftermath of a fall.
Russia's Ilia Kulik finished first and Canada's Elvis Stojko was second. With the long program Saturday, Weiss sits out of sight in 11th place.
"If you make one mistake, you can basically fly home tomorrow," Eldredge said. "I ended up doing what I wanted to do here. ... In the top three, you have a chance to win."
Kulik, Stojko and Eldredge seemed to share the same feeling: Now that that's out of the way, let the real Olympic competition begin. Any of them can win the title merely by winning the long program, which is worth two-thirds of the overall score and does not penalize technical mistakes as severely as the short program does.
"No one's got it yet," Stojko said. "It's a matter of the top three guys going out and doing their thing. Whoever deserves it is going to take it. ... It's a situation where: May the best man win."
Weiss will be skating Saturday more for self-respect than a medal. He essentially did what Eldredge did in '92, falling while attempting a required combination jump. After failing to land a triple Axel, Weiss then skipped the triple toe loop.
His standing at the end of the night reflected the double errors. In '92, Eldredge's fall left him in 10th place after the short program.
"You have to hit everything, all eight of the elements, and unfortunately I missed one," Weiss said. "The rest of the program was solid. ... It's not fun to not skate well. Obviously, you want to come out and nail everything."
Neither Eldredge nor Stojko despaired about not being at the top of the standings. Kulik, a 20-year-old from Moscow skating in his first Olympics, secured that position by a narrow margin: Four of the nine judges (from Romania, Japan, Russia and France) gave him their top votes. Eldredge received three first-place votes and Stojko two. The fact that Stojko had more second-place votes than Eldredge (four to zero) put him second.
Tonight's fourth-place skater, Russia's Alexei Yagudin, can win only by finishing first and having Kulik finish third or lower. The skater in fifth place, Philippe Candeloro of France, and the rest of the finishers need major help to win.
Kulik was the first skater in the second group. Eldredge skated at the end of that group — a position that possibly salvaged his night. He said he felt out of sorts while warming up. After leaving the ice, Eldredge had about 15 minutes to pull himself together and he used it judiciously.
"In the warmup, I felt a little nervous," he said. "My legs weren't quite there. . . . Everything felt a little off. I can't put my finger on exactly what it was, but I didn't feel like I was there. It was like I was on another planet."
In the bowels of the White Ring ice rink, he practiced his jumping in sneakers. He also talked with his coach, Dick Callaghan, and by the time his turn arrived, he felt loose and prepared.
Stojko took the ice knowing that Kulik and Eldredge had skated technically sound programs with high doses of artistry.
"Some people don't realize the type of situation I was in out there," Stojko said. "It's pretty intense. ... All I wanted was top three to set up the long. That's where I wanted to be."
Stojko said he chuckled at the six 5.7s (out of a possible 6.0) he received for artistic impression. (He also received a 5.6 from the judge from Great Britain.) If the judges didn't think his funky and fast-paced program was pretty enough, he suggested, that was their problem. Not surprisingly, he did have the Canadian judge on his side, who awarded the only 6.0 of the night.
"By no means are they sending me a message," Stojko said. "If the message is to change what I'm doing, I'm not going to change. . . . I'm a powerful skater, a masculine skater. I don't skate feminine; I'm not going to be that way. I don't have a feminine side."
Stojko was equally defiant when asked if Kulik had an edge by virtue of having won the short program.
"I don't think Ilia's in a position where it's his to lose," Stojko said. "Alexei [Urmanov of Russia] had the gold medal in 1994, and it's up for grabs now."
Urmanov hasn't competed since last year, when a leg forced him out of the world championships. The injury persisted into the season leading up to these Games. None of tonight's top three has won an Olympic gold medal, but all have impressive credentials. Eldredge was the world champion in 1996 and Stojko took the title last year. Kulik topped Eldredge and Stojko in the Champions Series final last December.
Kulik and Stojko say they plan to showcase quadruple jumps in their long programs. Eldredge, the only member of the trio who has never landed a quad in competition, said he hasn't decided whether he will attempt a quadruple toe loop. That, he said, he would decide Saturday.
"All of us want to win; that's all of our number one goals coming in here," Eldredge said. "But only one of us can."
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