Stojko leaps back atop skating world Champ in '94, '95 uses quad to edge Eldredge

March 21, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- For 15 seconds, nothing. Just a guy dressed in black standing motionless while music from the motion picture "Dragonheart" boomed through a tiny arena.

And then, Canada's Elvis Stojko went to work. The little skater with the big jumps brought fearlessness and fury to the World Figure Skating Championships, hitting the quad and eight triples to grab the men's crown for the third time in four years last night.

Stojko leaped from fourth to first in a heart-pounding long program production that should have been labeled an art-free zone.

This guy doesn't do fancy spins and frilly moves. He jumps, period.

"I'm floating right now," Stojko said after the win.

Left in his wake in the 4-minute, 30-second final was reigning world champion Todd Eldredge. With the crowd still roaring for ++ Stojko, Eldredge went on the ice, performed valiantly, but stumbled on one last triple Axel to finish second.

Alexei Yagudin, a 17-year-old Russian with chubby cheeks and Gumby-like legs, was third.

And missing in action was 1994 Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov, the Russian who pulled out with a pulled groin muscle suffered while winning Wednesday's short program. In the days of the old Soviet Union, a skater with the skills of Urmanov likely would have been shoved onto the ice, no matter the injury.

"Before, we are flying to the machine guns for the motherland," said Alexei Mishin, coach of Urmanov, who withdrew only after three injections and a tape job failed to alleviate the pain. "Now, we think of the health of the athletes."

With Urmanov out, the last man left standing won. And the quad, the new frontier in men's skating, was conquered again and again.

China's Guo Zehngxin, who finished 19th, actually landed a pair of quadruple toe loop jumps.

Latvian Konstantin Kostin, 17th, landed one quad.

But it was Stojko who topped them all. He landed the quad in combination with a triple toe loop. He earned the first-place votes of eight of the nine judges. He even got one perfect mark of 6.0 for technical merit from an Italian judge.

"I put everything in this," Stojko said.

The victory helped Stojko erase all memories of last year's worlds in Edmonton, Alberta, where he stumbled in the short program, finished fourth, and then heard whispers within the skating community.

"People were saying, 'Oh, he's not skating well. Not confident. Not artistic. Can't come back from Edmonton,' " Stojko said.

There was even a published rumor that the 5-foot-6 skater engaged in a brawl with Philadelphia Flyers' hockey star Eric Lindros, accusations that have been vehemently denied by all.

"When you're No. 1, everyone is watching you," Stojko said. "And when you slip up, they're still after you."

After his Canadian collapse, Stojko simply went back to work. He refashioned his long program after watching the movie "Dragonheart." He talked about this motion picture for a good five minutes last night, providing a nearly line-by-line account of the tale involving a knight and a dragon and a code of honor.

Stojko concluded: "When I saw the movie and heard the music, I said, "This is me. This is what I am. Do it with honor and passion.' "

Eldredge then looked at his rival and said: "He gave it two thumbs up."

The American champ skated to music from "Independence Day." Without a quad in his arsenal, Eldredge was forced to rely on his artistry -- and eight triples -- to beat Stojko. He nearly pulled it off.

But 3: 10 into the program, he turned a triple Axel into a single because he "tried too hard" and botched his timing. A minute later, he had one last chance to pull off the most difficult triple of them all. But as he tried for the Axel, he attempted to pull back at the final moment, and fell to the ice, ending his bid to become the first American since Scott Hamilton in 1984 to retain his world crown.

"It was not the place where I try the jump at all," Eldredge said. "It was a weird pattern going in."

He knew he needed the jump to win. And when he missed, he knew he had lost.

The American judge awarded him a first. Everyone else had him second.

"I gave it my best, came in second and can't argue with it," Eldredge said. "One mistake was the difference."

Make that, one quad.

Stojko conquered the jump and conquered the world.

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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