CANOE NAGANO '98 ISP DIRECTORY
Saturday, February 14, 1998
Kulik's cool and quad good for gold
NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- Ilya Kulik's cool, as much as his quad,
made him an Olympic champion Saturday night, carrying him from his first
mountain of a jump to a red-cheeked smile at the end.
skater ever landed so many tough jumps. Few skated with such
sophistication, as rhapsodic as his music. And not since half a century
ago did a young man in his first Winter Games claim the figure skating
The 20-year-old Russian left two world champions staring
up at him after the free skate, gimpy-legged Canadian Elvis Stojko from
the silver medalist's platform and broken-hearted American Todd Eldredge
from far, far away in fourth.
From the vantage point of
swashbuckling Frenchman Philippe Candeloro, whose captivating performance
in the free skate lifted him from fifth place to bronze, Kulik may reign
at the top of the sport for a long time to come.
"He has a
chance to get many, many gold medals," said Candeloro, who watched Kulik
skate and knew immediately where the gold was going. "I see quad and
triple-triple, and I say, 'OK, he won."'
Everyone skated for
second place after Kulik's performance -- a clean quadruple toe loop and
eight flawless triple jumps interwoven with the kind of style that
projected at once a mood of solitude and delight. Kulik caught perfectly
the spirit of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and he turned it into a
vehicle for his amazing vaults.
Kulik skated so well, it was
almost possible to ignore his bizarre plastic shirt -- banana yellow with
big black blotches.
Neither Alexei Urmanov, the gold medalist at
Lillehammer, nor Viktor Petrenko at Albertville, nor Brian Boitano at
Calgary attempted such a demanding program. And Kulik showed he could not
only outleap them, but he could approach them as a stylist, though he
still has far to go.
Kulik knew last year he had to inject more
artistry, more finesse into his skating, so he changed his coach and
choreographer and went back to work at his adopted rink in Marlborough,
"I was missing some crucial link, something that makes you
a winner," Kulik said.
He always had the leaping ability, though
his stamina was suspect. Now he has the whole package.
truly my best skating," he said after becoming the first man to win the
men's figure skating gold in his Olympic debut since Dick Button won his
first at age 18 in 1948. Button, who also won a gold in 1952, was on hand
to watch Kulik skate.
"The pressure was just unbelievable all
these eight days. Today, I couldn't sleep during the day. I was so
nervous, skating my program all the time in my mind," Kulik said.
He had reason to worry. All the buildup going into the Olympics
centered on Stojko, a silver medalist at Lillehammer, and Eldredge, fives
times the U.S. champion.
Though Kulik led after the short
program, either the second-place Stojko or the third-place Eldredge could
have grabbed the gold by winning the free skate.
followed Kulik onto the ice, and less than a minute later everyone knew
the American had virtually no chance. Instead of the triple axel-triple
toe loop he planned, he followed the axel with a double. Not a fatal
mistake, just the first of several. He made a similar error on the next
triple combination, then blew a triple axel, and skidded to the ice when
he tried in desperation to add another triple axel.
In all, it
was a disaster. Eldredge didn't even bother to watch the rest of the
"I knew how I skated, and more than likely it was not
an Olympic medal performance," he said. "When I finished there were no
thoughts of medals, or any of that. It was not the performance I wanted to
put out there. That's the way it goes."
A few minutes later,
sitting backstage, Eldredge heard Candeloro's scores, ranging from 5.7 to
6.0 for artistry.
"At that point there was no chance for me,"
Eldredge said. "I packed up."
Candeloro's theatrical performance
as the gallant swordsman, D'Artagnan from "The Three Musketeers," was
simply exhilarating. His fencing moves, his footwork, his playfulness
dazzled the crowd, which showered him with flowers at the end. It hardly
mattered that he stepped out one of his triple axels or landed shakily on
a triple salchow. For sheer artistry, Candeloro had everyone beat.
All that remained was to see whether Stojko's jumping genius
would carry him past Kulik. Not even close.
without apparent injury in the short program, and neither he nor his
coaches ever mentioned that he had a torn groin. But it was evident
moments into his free skate that something was wrong.
than land the quad near the start as everyone expected, he pulled up with
a triple toe loop, and didn't even try to combine that with another triple
For Stojko to miss the quad was almost a guarantee
he would miss the gold. His artistry would never carry him.
Stojko showed courage in persevering, pushing his painful right
leg through the rest of the program and producing a total of eight tiple
jumps to claim his second silver.
He watched his scores with a
grimace, clutching his right thigh with his hands. When he rose, his
coaches had to help carry him away. Stojko returned for the medal
ceremony, limping badly and wearing tennis shoes, then left for the
hospital without talking about his lost opportunity.
coach, Doug Leigh, described the injury as a torn abductor muscle and a
pinched nerve in the groin, originally suffered in the Canadian
championships five weeks ago but kept secret until now.
what shape he was in and he knew he didn't have enough time (to recover),"
Leigh said. "The last time he did any jumps was the day of the short
"After the first triple axel-triple toe, he was in
excruciating pain. Before he went on the ice, he kept telling himself, '4
minutes, 40 seconds, 4 minutes, 40 seconds. Somebody just be with me and
get me through it."'