No mistake: Wylie happy with silver Petrenko's triple-triple golden, despite his errors

February 16, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- It was Oscar Night at the Winter Olympics:

The men wore black.

The jury handed out a lifetime achievement award.

And a guy named Elvis was sent off to the heartbreak hotel.

But for American Paul Wylie, all the craziness surrounding a sport in transition could not ruin last night's perfect ending.

The 27-year-old Harvard graduate didn't get the Olympic gold, but he got the silver medal in the men's figure skating final.

"This is one to stop on," Wylie said. "I'm glad I don't have to endure going down the tubes."

Nearly everyone else did, though.

This was just your average men's figure skating nightmare at the Winter Olympics.

Viktor Petrenko of the Unified Team, a 22-year-old Olympic veteran who lives in Ukraine, won the gold despite giving a performance filled with errors. But as the reigning bronze medalist, he was elevated to the top by a judging panel that apparently gave more weight to his triple-Axel-triple-toe loop combination than to Wylie's cleaner skate.

Petr Barna, of Czechoslovakia, was awarded the bronze after making Olympic history by landing the first quadruple toe loop jump in competition -- and he did it while wearing a skull on his chest.

And Elvis Stojko, of Canada, the only man to skate cleanly through both the short and long programs, finished seventh.

This was no Battle of the Brians in this Olympics.

Just ask Brian Boitano and Brian Orser, the two top skaters from the 1988 Games who happened to be sitting together in the audience last night.

"I thought I was in 'The Twilight Zone,' " said Boitano, the 1988 gold medalist.

"This was one of those nights that should have been magical, but wasn't," said Orser, a two-time silver medalist.

It was just plain weird.

Three-time world champion Kurt Browning of Canada, in line for a Diet Coke commercial after the Games, should probably sell Alka Seltzer. He went plop-plop, fizz-fizz, and fell to sixth.

And Christopher Bowman, of Los Angeles, whose plans include acting, finished fourth.

"I came. I saw. They [the judges] kicked my butt," Bowman said.

Bowman wasn't the only one complaining about the scoring -- or the outcome.

In the first Olympics without compulsory figures -- the skating foundation that judges once used to establish rank -- the nine-member panel had to make choices based on free-skating alone.

And it was a difficult task.

Only one skater, Wylie, excited the crowd of 9,000, giving an elegant, elevating performance. But one thing was missing -- a triple-jump combination.

In the end, the panel voted 7-2 to make Petrenko the champion. The likely reason: Petrenko landed the difficult triple-Axel-triple-toe loop combination.

"The winner of the men's gold medal had the worst performance since 1948 [Dick Button]," said Bowman's coach, John Nicks. "Paul Wylie should have won the gold. My boy [Bowman] should have had a shot at a medal."

Orser agreed.

"I'm a big fan of Petrenko's," Orser said. "I admire his skating and his ability. But it wasn't there. And somebody else's ability was. I thought the judging was poor. Especially rating the great skating of Paul Wylie. Wylie was the best. He skated clean. He had a great program. Clever. Put together in a very smart way. Executed well. Had some smart steps."

Wylie wasn't complaining about his placement, though. After all, he never even expected to be here. He only got to the Olympics after finishing a close second at the U.S. Nationals, and he wasn't even awarded a berth at next month's World Championships in Oakland, Calif.

Although he has never won a national championship, and never placed higher than ninth at a World Championship, Wylie will now end his amateur career as an Olympic silver medalist.

"I wasn't thinking, 'Will I win or lose?' " Wylie said. "I was just thinking about my program."

The program was gorgeous, a lush production to the music from the movie "Henry V." When he finished, Wylie brushed his hair back, and fought back tears.

"I'm still trying to get used to the feeling of all this," Wylie said. "I came into the competition to skate performances that would make me happy in retrospect. I didn't think about the medal. Oh, well, maybe for a half an hour. I thought about winning a bronze. That would be so amazing. It would vindicate my life."

The night was strange. The winner received a gift. But so did the silver medalist.

Petrenko wasn't perfect, but he was a champion. And so was Wylie.

"I knew in my heart, if I could skate well, I could get the job done," Wylie said. "Now, I have the silver medal. That is something. That is serendipity."

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