Stojko puts men's title on display

March 10, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun

BIRMINGHAM, England -- Elvis Stojko could write the book about Zen and the art of skating.

He talks of Tai Chi. He proudly wears a karate black belt. He launches into philosophical discussions of finding his center.

"Everything comes from the blade," he says. "As a dancer would dance, a skater would skate."

Last night, Stojko turned words into action. The elfin Canadian with a pug's profile gave a 4-minute, 30-second performance that was balanced with equal parts guts and gusto. He landed eight triple jumps. He grimaced through pain. And he earned one perfect mark of 6.0 and reclaimed the men's title at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Not bad for a skater who less than two months ago severely damaged his right ankle and foot ligaments at the Canadian Championships.

"It's hard to put into words how I feel right now after all I've been through," he said. "It's a sweet victory."

American Todd Eldredge also could find sweetness in claiming the silver medal ahead of third-place finisher Philippe Candeloro of France.

"It is a tremendous feeling right now to be No. 2 in the world after all the things I have gone through," Eldredge said.

After showing early promise by winning a World bronze in 1991, Eldredge had been in skating's shadowland, beset by back injuries, slouching toward a possible retirement.

Now, he's back on a podium. But to get there, he had to contend with the pressure of leading after the technical program. And then, he had to claw his way through the free skate, falling on a triple axel midway through the show. But he saved the best for last, tossing in one last unplanned triple axel with 15 seconds remaining.

"As I went into the jump, I thought, 'If I do it, I'm still in the hunt for it. If I don't, I gave it my best shot,' " Eldredge said.

Eldredge wasn't alone in taking a risk. There was nothing timid or tentative about a competition that included three Olympic medalists -- Russia's Alexei Urmanov, Stojko and Candeloro.

"Everyone is trying to push it, to get that next step up on the other guy," Eldredge said.

During the warm-up for the final six skaters, the crowd roared with every jump. British flags were unfurled for local hero Steven Cousins, who would finish eighth. American flags were waved for Eldredge and Scott Davis, who would finish seventh.

Then came the main event. Urmanov, dressed in white and black, performed to Swan Lake and fell out of his first combination jump. Still, this Baryshnikov on Skates would not let go of the performance, and he brought the crowd and the judges along for four wonderful minutes, and held fourth place.

Inevitably, the championships became a showdown between Stojko and Eldredge.

They pushed one another to the limit. Eldredge, music from the soundtrack "Gettysburg" echoing through the arena, played the role of a Civil War soldier, dressed in blue and gray, marching across the ice. He recovered from one spill. He landed seven triple jumps, including the dramatic final axel.

The scores popped up and Eldredge was in first.

But not for long.

Elvis was still in the building. For 15 seconds, while music from the movie "1492" played, the 5-foot-7 Stojko crouched beside an Evian advertisement, the explorer examining the sea. It was the only respite he would get. Stojko became a skating whirlwind. He landed two triple jump combinations. He nearly landed the quadruple toe loop, touching down with two feet after four dizzying revolutions. When he finished, panting and smiling, it was clear he would be declared the winner.

He received one perfect score for technical merit. He earned six first-place votes to Eldredge's three.

No one could complain.

"Elvis skated great," Eldredge said. "He had the little bobble on the quad. But I can't argue with that. He had the two triple combinations, the last at the end. Incredible."

Stojko savored his comeback from injury and his triumph over the field.

The skater whom the judges once loathed for putting jumps ahead of artistry, had earned another gold.

"My style is not classical," Stojko said. "It's not quite this, or that. My style revolves around emotion."

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