MINNEAPOLIS, FEB. 17 -- It's the gaudiest sport of all, but, today, figure skating turned a cold shoulder to its ultimate showman, Christopher Bowman, and rewarded the conservative son of a fisherman with his second consecutive national championship.

Todd Eldredge, a 19-year-old who shoots 74s on the golf course, skated an industrial-strength long program to overtake and defeat Bowman, who mugged for the cameras and mugged for the judges, but still came in second.

Eldredge's long program was ranked first by six of the nine judges; bronze medalist Paul Wylie won two of the judges and Bowman, just one. Based on this, Eldredge lept past Bowman, the leader after the original program (worth one third the total score) to win the men's title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Target Center. All three men will represent the United States at the world championships next month in Munich.

Last year, when Eldredge won his first title, Bowman, the 1989 national champion, pulled out of the competition with a bad back. This afternoon, with Bowman saying he was a changed man with a new coach and a new attitude, Eldredge still won, to his ultimate satisfaction.

"This might show everybody," Eldredge said. "In my mind, I knew even before this. I knew what I could do. But it's a great feeling to know you can do it twice. The second time around is better."

It's not just that every skater was here. Each of the top four -- Bowman, Eldredge, Mark Mitchell and Wylie, in order from Friday night -- performed flawlessly.

"The people were too good," said Toller Cranston, a 1976 Olympic bronze medalist from Canada and Bowman's new coach. "It wasn't like {women's champion} Tonya Harding yesterday, where there was only one performance."

Mitchell, with six triples in his program, might have had the best performance of all, but was judged fourth by all but one judge, who placed him third. Wylie, who won over the crowd with an understated showmanship, performed five triples, again without a mistake. Although he's a crowd pleaser, some wondered why Wylie, a 26-year-old veteran from Harvard who is not expected to be a factor at the worlds or the 1992 Olympics, was placed ahead of Mitchell, 22, who is likely to be one of the top U.S. hopes by the 1994 Winter Games. Mitchell certainly could use the international seasoning of a trip to the worlds, but he now must wait.

But there was no doubt who belonged first. Eldredge, dressed in mauve pants and off-white shirt and skating to the music from "Les Miserables," performed seven triples, but not flawlessly. He stumbled out of a triple loop early in his program, but right before that he had completed the most difficult combination of the day -- a triple axel, triple toe loop.

"I was a little off pattern after the triple combination, so it was a little off, but at least I stood up," said Eldredge, who grew up in Chatham, Mass., but now lives and trains in San Diego. His mother lives with him, while his father stays home and fishes for cod, haddock and mackerel off the Massachusetts shore.

Part of Eldredge's program was skated to the upbeat "Master of the House" number. In the end, that turned out to be exactly what Eldredge was.

"The main difference from last year is my maturity and overall appearance on the ice," said Eldredge, who recently turned to ballet to soften the rough edges of his program. "I know the rink is huge, so every move, I try to use as much ice as possible. I've had quite a few people tell me I look like I'm six-feet tall. That's not the case."

He is 5 foot 8.

Bowman, draped in a black velvet suit with plunging neckline and a white silk collar and skating to a combination of five classical numbers, also performed seven triples, but got scared and turned a planned double axel into a single axel after a flurry of triples, including the most difficult of all, the triple axel.

"I kept telling myself, 'Be careful, be careful, just be careful,'" Bowman said. "I felt like all three wishes were used up with the triple axel."

"Of course, we're going to go home and pound him on the head for the single axel," Cranston said.

Bowman was in the unenviable position of skating first among the last group. He said he felt nervous and wanted to be careful, not knowing what was going to happen after he left the ice.

"The audience was very dead," said Cranston, "and Christopher warmed them up. Todd {who was next} benefited from it, and so did Mark and Paul."

Bowman has been trumpeting a new, serious image this week. As Cranston said, "The cheeseburger had to be turned into filet mignon."

Well, the cheese might be gone, but there still is a lot of hamburger left.

Midway through his 4-minute 30-second routine, Bowman, a former child actor in Hollywood, hockey-stopped in front of an ABC camera and smiled, then, a minute later, did the same thing for the judges.

Cranston said he didn't know Bowman was going to do that.

"I guess it's like Bowman the showman," he said. "It's only been six months. We don't know him that well."

There was disappointment in Bowman's camp, for they know that, at 23, he has been passed by Eldredge, at least for now.

"It was not the performance of his life, but it was very good," said Cranston. "But he still is finding his own level, what is right for him. He is one of the major personalities of skating, whether you like him or you hate him."