Eldredge falters, then flourishes, for title

October 30, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Skate America International '94 was a personal showcase for Todd Eldredge. It was a nightmare for fellow American Aren Nielson.

Eldredge survived an early fall in the men's long program yesterday to win the first major competition of the 1994-95 figure skating season, placing ahead of Philippe Candeloro and Eric Millot of France to take the gold medal.

Nielson, who fell in Thursday's short program, stumbled repeatedly yesterday to finish seventh in the free skating portion of the competition and sixth overall. Eldredge was more resilient, popping up from an abortive triple axel to skate flawlessly the rest of the way.

"Once I did fall on the first jump, I thought to myself, 'Get it back together,' you've been skating good all week, so don't let one fall blow the competition,' " Eldredge said. "In the past, I might have let that first fall get to me. I think I've grown in that respect."

It also was a big weekend for a couple of other Americans. Ice dancers Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow got a reprieve after Swallow took a fall in their long program, then took advantage of a re-start to win their first gold medal in international competition.

The referee stopped their routine because of a loose stirrup on Swallow's left skate, then allowed them the option of starting over from the beginning.

The final day of competition began with the long program in the pairs competition, with the gold medal going to Marina Eltsova and Andrei Bushkov of Russia and the silver going to the #F Russian pair of Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov. It ended with the long program of the women's competition, and a gold medal for Surya Bonaly of France.

Eldredge, who captivated crowds with a Chaplinesque routine to finish second at the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia, debuted a new program that was skated to the movie soundtrack "Gettysburg." The judges endorsed his new routine with strong scores for both technical merit and artistic presentation.

"It's totally different from last year and the Chaplin thing," Eldredge said. "Our thinking is that you can't come back every year and look the same."

It was the second straight competition in which Eldredge finished ahead of Candeloro, who won the bronze medal at the Olympics and was second at the World Championships in Japan. Eldredge did not compete at either of those events, but has taken advantage of his last two competitions to elevate his status among the world's top skaters.

Quite a comeback for a 23-year-old who won back-to-back U.S. championships in 1990-91, only to finish 10th at the '92 Olympics and spend the next two years fighting injuries and inconsistency.

"It's exciting to know I've gone out twice now and competed against him [Candeloro] and beat him, with him being third in the Olympics and second at the Worlds," Eldredge said. "God only knows what would have happened if I had been there. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens this year."

Candeloro may have gotten a subtle rebuke from the judges because he came in with the same music and routine that he has been using for the past year.

He has been skating to music from "The Godfather" since the last Skate America in Dallas and apparently did not have time to put together a new routine for the early events of this season.

Nielson had hoped to bounce back from a disappointing performance at the Goodwill Games, where he finished seventh, but he fell three times -- once slamming hard into the boards.

Nevertheless, he considered the competition a positive step in his attempt to return to the World Championships in March.

"I feel better than I did in Russia," Nielson said. "It doesn't look that way to the spectators, but to myself I'm definitely up. I'm just going to go home a little hungrier."

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