MINNEAPOLIS -- When he won the national title a year ago, Todd Eldredge seemed like a caretaker king, keeping the throne warm for the return of 1989 champion Christopher Bowman.
When he won it again yesterday afternoon, Eldredge seemed lord and master of his domain, the men's competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
With a freestyle long program that overwhelmed Bowman's in technical difficulty and nearly matched it in artistry, Eldredge persuaded any remaining skeptics that his 1990 triumph was not just a product of the injury that sidelined Bowman midway through last year's championships.
"This might show everybody, and that's fine," said Eldredge, 19, of Chatham, Mass. "In my mind, I knew even before this happened that I could do it."
Bowman, 23, of Van Nuys, Calif., was second. Paul Wylie, 26, of Denver, earned the final spot on the U.S. team for next month's World Championships with a mildly controversial third-place finish.
Eldredge, who had been second to Bowman after Friday's original program, literally jumped past his rival. He completed seven triple jumps, including two triple Axels, one in combination with another triple. That was the toughest combination done by any of the 16 skaters, and none of the others landed more than one triple Axel.
What made Eldredge's victory more convincing was the dramatic improvement in his skating between the jumps. A year of ballet lessons gave his interpretation of music from "Les Miserables" an artistry he would have lacked a year ago.
To be master of this house was no mean feat. The 14th finisher was skilled enough to attempt a triple Axel. The fifth, Michael Chak, did two jump combinations, four triple jumps and a quadruple -- on which he botched the landing, but remained on his feet -- in the first 90 seconds of the 4-minute, 30-second program.
"The greatest depth I've ever seen," said Evy Scotvold, Wylie's coach.
The second finisher in 1989, Daniel Doran, turned in a performance of relatively similar quality this year and wound up 10th.
"The competition was too bloody good," said Bowman's coach, Toller Cranston. "This was like the World Championships. I'm glad I didn't have to judge it.
"The crime of it is that a skater like Mark Mitchell, who skates absolutely perfectly, drops a place."
Mitchell, 22, of Hamden, Conn., fell from third after the short program to fourth despite a smartly choreographed program to the music from "On the Waterfront." His synchrony with the music was perfect, and he still managed to toss off six triple jumps.