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OLYMPICS

Skaters Raise Stakes at a Dizzying Pace

November 20, 2000|HELENE ELLIOTT

Poor Todd Eldredge.

A few weeks after the five-time U.S. men's figure skating champion landed his first quadruple jump in competition, Timothy Goebel landed three quads in his long program at Skate America, affirming the quad as a must-have for Salt Lake City men's Olympic medal hopefuls.

Although Goebel must refine his artistry, he appears to have overtaken Eldredge in the Olympic race by winning the Skate America title and finishing second to Russia's Evgeni Plushenko in the Nations Cup at Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Eldredge, who won the Midwestern Sectional championships last week en route to the U.S. National championships, didn't try a quad at Skate America and put his hand down on the quad he tried at Skate Canada.

Michael Weiss, the 2000 U.S. champion, also has some catching up to do. In last weekend's Cup of Russia at St. Petersburg, his first competition since he suffered a broken ankle, Weiss simplified several jumps and completed only three triples, finishing sixth.

The technical level continues to rise. Plushenko, fourth in this year's world championships, defeated Goebel in Germany and fellow Russian Ilia Klimkin last weekend at St. Petersburg by doing a quadruple toe-triple toe-double loop combination in his long program. Goebel, who trains in El Segundo with Frank Carroll, landed a quadruple salchow in his Skate America short program and two in his long program in Germany, one in combination with a triple toe loop.

What's next--a quintuple jump? It might come soon.

Dick Button landed the first double axel in competition at the 1948 Olympics, and Vern Taylor of Canada landed the first triple axel in the 1978 World Championships. The first quadruple jump in competition was a quadruple loop by Kurt Browning of Canada at the 1988 World Championships. Goebel was the first to do a quadruple salchow in competition, at the 1999 World Championships, the first to do a quadruple salchow in combination with a triple jump, and the first to do three quads in a program, at Skate America in 1999.

"Had you asked the skating fraternity 20 years ago if anybody could do a quad, they probably would have said no," said Paul Martini, a Canadian TV commentator and writer who paired with Barbara Underhill to win the 1984 world pairs title. "I'm watching guys do them now and you see the odd one over-rotated. It's not what they're trying to do, but when you're exerting that much energy and moving that quickly, it's difficult to stop.

"If anybody is even remotely close [to a quintuple jump], probably the best bet is Timothy. He's got a real natural predisposition to rotate quickly. It would have to be someone with that type of physique--slight of build and narrow-hipped."

No female skater has landed a quad in competition. Martini believes women must first master the triple axel--which is 3 1/2 rotations--before they can try quads. Midori Ito of Japan became the first woman to land a triple axel in competition at the 1989 World Championships, and Tonya Harding became the first U.S. woman to land one at the 1991 World Championships. However, no U.S. woman has one in her repertoire.

"That's actually more baffling to me than anything," Martini said. "Tonya has been out of the sport for six years, and in that time, nobody has been able to do it. . . . Our sport is unique in that we have had so few changes in equipment and the surface on which we ply our trade. Gymnastics has spring-loaded the floor so they do all kinds of stuff they couldn't do before. A lot of sports have had equipment advances, but ours, you could take a skate from 25 years ago and take one from today and they're very similar. The materials may be different but overall, in terms of what they do, they're the same. Any advances you've seen are in technique.

"It could be that it won't be until we have a [Wayne] Gretzky of our sport, someone who is so amazingly gifted, that we make that leap."

MIRACLE ON ICE, PART II

Herb Brooks' appointment as coach of the 2002 U.S. men's Olympic hockey team was more than a bow to nostalgia. It makes sense.

Brooks, who led the U.S. to gold at Lake Placid in 1980, advocates a free-flowing game that's ideal for the wider Olympic ice surface. He's familiar with the NHL after coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins most of last season and has recently been scouting for them. His association with the "Miracle on Ice" will also lure many elite U.S. players.

"I'm definitely in. Without question, I want to play on that team, especially when they bring in a guy like Herb Brooks and what he has accomplished," said Phoenix Coyote winger Keith Tkachuk, who called the Nagano Olympics "the biggest waste of time" after the U.S. was eliminated by the Czech Republic, although he later recanted.

"He's somebody I'd really like to play for. He's a hero, after watching those Olympics. I think it's important, especially with what we did in 1980. That brought myself and a lot of American players into hockey. This can bring better players from the U.S. into hockey."

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