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Eldredge Flops, Russia's Kulik Wins Gold
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Sports Writer
Sunday, February 15, 1998; Page D1

 From left, men's figure skating medalists Philippe Candeloro of France, Ilia Kulik of Russia and Elvis Stojko of Canada acknowledge the cheers of the crowd. (Associated Press)

NAGANO, Feb. 14 — After a long program so remarkable that it succeeded in taking the focus off his bright yellow shirt with black splotches, Russian figure skater Ilia Kulik raised his arms and smiled as if he could already feel the Olympic gold medal being draped around his neck. France's Philippe Candeloro, who hadn't yet performed, knew as he watched Kulik that the top spot on the medal stand had just been taken.

"I saw Ilia skate today," Candeloro said, "... and I said: Okay, he won."

Though the gold medal seemed to be decided early tonight, the real drama began only after Kulik's performance — which included a quadruple toe loop and eight triple jumps. During a night of surprises at the White Ring ice rink, Canada's Elvis Stojko overcame a groin injury to win the silver and Candeloro stirred the crowd and the judges to steal the bronze from American Todd Eldredge.

While Eldredge failed miserably in his last chance to win an Olympic medal, dropping into fourth place, Fairfax's Michael Weiss redeemed himself with a seventh-place finish, and Chinese skater Zhengxin Guo landed the first quadruple jump in Olympic history.

But those story lines were topped by Kulik's. He was born in Moscow, the son of an engineer father and a mother who is an English — Russian technical translator. He was the world junior champion three years ago, and at age 20, was competing in his first Olympics.

"The pressure was just unbelievable all this eight days," Kulik said. "It was such big pressure on me. Each practice, each jump I just concentrated so much. ... I couldn't sleep today. It wasn't possible at all. I was so nervous, I was skating my program in my mind all the time."

Kulik chuckled about his shirt, which resembled the back of a giraffe.

For the short program, he wore a black costume that was sheer in parts and included chiffon ruffles. This shirt for the long program, he said, was sent to him from Moscow.

"There's not going to be any question about the shirt," Kulik said, "because the shirt has won."

Stojko, 25, competed with a month-old injury that he managed to keep secret, even though a handful of journalists watched him practice every day since he arrived. Stojko, who finished third today after a second in Thursday's short program, did not even attempt a quadruple jump in his long program. Upon finishing, his face dissolved with grimaces and gritted teeth. His coach Doug Leigh said the injury was a pulled right groin and a pinched nerve in that area.

Leigh said the injury occurred at the Canadian championships weeks ago. He said Stojko left the rink for medical treatment immediately after the medal ceremony.

"As far as I'm concerned, if there's a medal for bravery, he should get that medal," Leigh said.

Candeloro, who was fifth after the short program, sailed into a bronze medal finish with the first crowd-pleasing performance at White Ring. Also the bronze medalist at the 1994 Olympics, Candeloro stirred the usually polite, sedate crowd of 8,000 into a frenzy of whistles and applause after a charismatic performance as D'Artagnan from "The Three Musketeers" that included a stirring sword fight.

"It's very funny," said Candeloro, who will turn 26 Tuesday. "I didn't skate normal for the last two years because I got a big [ankle] injury. Not many people believed I would be on the podium today, so it's a good revenge today."

Eldredge, 26, plans to turn professional later this year, ending his amateur career without an Olympic medal. He dropped to fourth with a flawed program in which he skipped three planned triple jumps and fell on a triple Axel. The look of intense disappointment on Eldredge's face revealed how desperately he wanted to take home a medal.

"I knew how I skated," Eldredge said. "I knew more than likely it wasn't a medal performance. ... It's something I really wanted, but everybody doesn't get everything they want."

What Kulik did not get was the distinction of landing the first quadruple jump in Olympic Games history. Guo, who skated earlier, landed one of the two quadruple jumps in his program. The judges weren't too impressed, however: He finished eighth.

Weiss rebounded from a disappointing short program with a almost mistake-free long that lifted him from 11th to seventh, behind Russia's Alexei Yagudin — who fell attempting a quadruple toe loop and finished fifth — and Great Britain's Steven Cousins, who was sixth.

Weiss's only noticeable failure was a fall attempting a quadruple Lutz, which no man ever has landed in competition. He also turned a triple Axel into a double, but otherwise offered one of the most impressive long programs of the night despite having been bothered by a bruised left hip.

"It was great," Weiss, 21, said. "Not having done a spectacular short program the other night, it was important for me to come back and not only prove to myself, but also to the judges, that I was a serious contender. ... This is a big defining moment for me personally."

Kulik likely could say the same.

"It was my best performance ... it was truly the best skating," Kulik said. "Right now, I am a proud Olympic champion."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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