NASHVILLE — Controversy at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships used to be a simple thing, easy to understand, as blunt and as obvious as a metal bar smacking a kneecap.
But that was then, and this was the crux of the debate that raged on long after Todd Eldredge won his fourth consecutive men's national championship Saturday at Nashville Arena:
Did runner-up Michael Weiss become the first American to land a quadruple toe-loop in an official competition?
Confusion reigned for a good two hours, before Morry Stillwell, the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. president, could be roused from a quiet dinner and dragged into the interview room to determine the validity of the quad.
Upon further review, Stillwell decided:
"I was sitting in the audience watching the event, as excited as anybody else, and I did not see anything that looked strange to me," said Stillwell, a figure skating judge for 25 years. "However, I just returned from the [television] truck, looking at the slow-mo, and it was clearly a two-foot on the exit. What happened is [Weiss] came down on his landing foot and essentially pushed off with the second foot.
"So, the official statement of the USFSA is that we cannot recognize that as a clean quad jump, as much as I'd love to do it."
Stillwell's ruling came two hours after silver medalist Weiss completely overshadowed Eldredge in the post-skate interview session, treated, briefly, as the toast of U.S. men's figure skating--the first American to officially pull off the quad, a maneuver pioneered by Canadian Kurt Browning in 1988.
Weiss was besieged by questions about when he first began practicing the quad, how he felt when he landed the quad, how he prepared himself mentally for the quad and if he believed future Olympic gold medals would now be determined by who hits and doesn't hit the quad.
This was history--until the judges got hold of the videotape and, through a series of curious statements to the media, began hemming and hawing about the authenticity of the quad.
First came a statement from Nancy Bizzano, referee for the men's competition, claiming that the tape showed Weiss had committed a "toe touch"--his free toe was seen to graze the ice a split-second before his landing foot.
Half an hour later, when contacted by a pool reporter for further comment, Bizzano retracted her first statement, saying she hadn't reviewed the tape and that "We have no mechanism in our sport to examine this."
At that point, the call went out for Stillwell, who settled in for a grilling by a testy group of figure skating writers. One called the quad dispute a "public relations nightmare" and asked why there was no immediate procedure for reviewing a potentially unprecedented jump "if you want to be taken seriously as a sport."
Stillwell: "We don't have the technology yet . . . to have instant replay on questionable things."
But hadn't instant replay just been used to disallow Weiss' quad, another writer asked.
Stillwell: "It certainly was not instant replay. It was two hours later."
So, Weiss will have to wait to try again at the history-making quad.
"As far as I know, I landed it," he insisted.