ORLANDO, Fla. -- America's leading man of skate, Todd Eldredge, may be taking his Olympic fate off his skates and casting it in the hands of a jury of 40. A painful back injury threatens to knock him out of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, casting a shadow over his chances of making the U.S. Olympic team.
Eldredge was the highest-ranked U.S. male at the 1991 World Championships in Munich, Germany, finishing third, which would establish him as America's best chance for a medal at Albertville, France.
However, the nationals, being held this week, weigh heavily in the formula for selecting the team, and if Eldredge doesn't participate, the only way he may be one of the three U.S. men at the Olympics would be if the U.S. Figure Skating Association International Committee grants him a special waiver.
Under normal circumstances, the top three finishers here would be America's three representatives at Albertville. However, the 40-person committee is permitted to make an exception in case an injury erases a world medalist from the nationals. Such a decision almost would certainly bring a howl of protest from the No. 3 finisher who was bumped from the team.
Eldredge's physician, Dr. Arthur Pappas, advised Eldredge yesterday to withdraw, citing the need for immediate rest. He viewed results of tests done on Eldredge yesterday in Orlando and ascertained it was a flare-up of a recurring injury caused by a congenital spine defect. Eldredge strained the area after foot injuries kept him off the ice five weeks in October and November, and he attempted too strenuous a practice schedule when he returned.
"There's pain there, and it's not going away," Eldredge said. "It's most painful when there is a lot of pressure on the right leg, a lot of pain on the triple axel [jump]."
Eldredge and his coach, Richard Callaghan, had already decided to take the triple axel out of Eldredge's program before Pappas handed down his opinion. All agree that such a dramatic move would weaken Eldredge's score. "But I'm just shooting for one of those three spots on the team," Eldredge said.
Eldredge won't make a final decision until tonight, after he skates this afternoon. Callaghan, though, knows what the coach's advice will be.
"At this time, I do not want to see him skate at a level that is not good for him," Callaghan said while conceding that Eldredge still could probably skate well enough to make the top three.
Margaret Faulkner, chairwoman of the International Committee, indicated she would strongly consider giving Eldredge a spot on the Olympic team if injuries keep him off the ice this week. "Considering all he has done the past year, and speaking only for myself and not for the remainder of the committee, I think he deserves strong consideration," Faulkner said.
Ironically, Eldredge's injury completes a clean sweep of the top three finishers at Munich who are struggling with back injuries. Canadian Kurt Browning, the gold medal winner, dropped out of the Canadian championships. Russian Viktor Petrenko, who was second, recently finished third at his national championships, indicating the difficulty his ailing back is causing him.