Eldredge moves into first place

March 09, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun

BIRMINGHAM, England -- Todd Eldredge was a skating star at 18 and a has-been at 22.

Now, he just might wind up a world champion at 23.

Yesterday, Eldredge led a North American assault and grabbed hold of the World Championships with a 2-minute, 40-second technical program that was figure skating's version of a slam dunk.

He jumped without fear. He swayed to the music from the film "Swing Kids." He claimed first place and took a giant leap toward tonight's free-skate final, worth two-thirds of the overall score.

"You could say I've had one career, took some time, did something else and came back," said Eldredge, a two-time American champion in his teens who has been bothered for three years by back injuries and indecision. To complete the comeback, though, Eldredge is going to have to win a three-way battle.

Standing second is defending champion Elvis Stojko of Canada. The martial arts specialist and dirt-bike aficionado triple jumped and karate kicked his way through a routine to Schwarzenegger movie music.

American Scott Davis is third, reprising a performance to "Zorba The Greek." But unlike in last year's Olympics and World Championships, where he fell early and often, Davis stood and smiled.

All three skaters brought a little macho and muscle back to the men's competition. There had been some outrageous outfits on display, from lavender get-ups to Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov's "Swan Lake" number, the one that comes with lace gloves and more ruffles than a Paris fashion show. And there was also plenty of elevator music, including a baroque version of the Beatles' "Help" -- a real foot stomper.

Then, the favorites tumbled. Russia's Urmanov botched a jump but was generously placed fourth by a judging panel top-heavy with Europeans who favor the skater's classical, balletic style. France's Philippe Candeloro nearly crashed on a triple, and fell to fifth.

Great Britain's Steven Cousins didn't miss a jumping trick, yet he was dumped to sixth.

"I'm going to get my mum to judge next year," he said.

Not a bad idea. But even these judges couldn't deny the North Americans the top spots.

Enter Stojko, dressed in black and blue, a snarl on his face.

He punched. He jumped. He turned music from "Total Recall" into a personal statement. And he did it on a right ankle that only hours earlier was covered in acupuncture pins to relieve pain from ligament damage sustained only seven weeks ago.

Then came Davis, still battling the stage fright that has bedeviled his performances since he won the 1994 U.S. championships. This time, he beat the beast.

"In the past, I would tense up and things would become forced and muscled," he said.

Finally, there was Eldredge. For the first time in years, he entered a major competition without nerves.

His jumping helped him win the technical program on a judging split decision -- five first-place scores to four for Stojko. He landed the combination -- a triple axel-triple toe -- and pulled out a triple Lutz that was heading toward disaster.

"After that combination, I said, 'I better fight through this,' " Eldredge said. "And I did."

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