Golden Skate

2002 Olympics: Men’s Figure Skating Highlights

Following the controversy of the pairs event, there could no better redemption to the reputation of figure skating than the star-studded men’s event. bronze medalist Tim Goebel landed four quadruple jumps over two programs. gold medalist Alexei Yagudin landed three. Silver medalist Evgeny Plushenko landed two. At the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Ilia Kulik landed a quadruple toe loop en route to victory. His was the only quad performed among the top seven finishers in Nagano. The same man who finished seventh in Nagano, Michael Weiss of the U.S., also finished seventh in Salt Lake City, but with a markedly better performance that included an astounding quadruple toe-triple toe-double loop combination-a combination that was unthinkable just four years ago. Having the general public watch man after man raise the technical level of figure skating to previously unseen heights is just the positive PR that figure skating desperately needed.

gold medalist Alexei Yagudin, a fan favorite throughout the world, also gave some much-needed good PR to the Russian federation. His 9-0 uncontroversial win, complete with four perfect marks of 6.0 from the U.S., Romanian, German, and Azerbaijani judges, dispelled the myth that Russians win only for political reasons. In fact, Yagudin and silver medalist Plushenko won their medals without a Russian judge on the panel. Yagudin’s free skate was slightly conservative in that he performed only one triple Axel compared to his competitors’ two, but it was nearly flawless nonetheless with two quadruple jumps and a full complement of six triple jumps.

Reigning World Champion Evgeny Plushenko debuted a new program to “Carmen” that bore some resemblance to Yagudin’s 1997 performance to the same music. With a quad toe-triple toe combination, a solo quad toe, a never-before-done triple Axel-half loop-triple flip combination, and a solo triple Axel, Plushenko had a tour de force opening that would be enough to inspire fear in any of his competitors. The gutsy nineteen-year old even tried a triple loop on the end of his quad toe-triple toe combination, attempting to be the first person ever to perform such a combination. Gutsy as the attempt was, the step out of the loop plus a later double salchow in place of a triple salchow left Plushenko with fewer clean triple jumps than his compatriot’s conservative effort. Though the difference in sophistication of choreography would have likely tipped the scales in favor of Yagudin even if Plushenko had skated cleanly, the two flawed jumps sealed an easy victory for Yagudin.

The U.S. had reason to celebrate with Timothy Goebel winning the first U.S. medal in men’s skating since Paul Wylie won silver in Albertville in 1992. With three clean quadruple jumps- two salchows and a toe loop- Goebel’s only error was flipping out of the landing of his second triple Axel. The twenty-one year old originally from Rolling Meadows, Ill. and now training out of El Segundo, Calif. received marks as high as 5.9 for technical merit but as low as 5.4 for presentation, an area which he has developed, but which will require further development if he hopes to challenge the likes of Plushenko in the years to come. Thought to be an outsider for a medal after unceremoniously losing his national title to Todd Eldredge last month in Los Angeles, Goebel prophetically commented that perhaps the international judges would have rated the two men differently. However, the student of Frank Carroll did not rest on his laurels and gave his best performance of the season at the Olympics, landing technical content that no one else in the world is capable of performing, and finishing three spots ahead of the nearest American.

Second after the short program, Japan’s Takeshi Honda was hurt by not performing a clean quadruple jump or a triple-triple combination. The stylish Japanese skater had perhaps the most realized program of the event, set to Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, but even his superior presentation could not pull him ahead of Goebel, who had three quadruple jumps, one in combination with a triple toe loop. Goebel’s other main challenger, Russian and European silver medalist Alexander Abt, took himself out of contention early on by falling on his quadruple toe attempt. Abt finished fifth.

Ninth after a disastrous short program with a flawed quadruple attempt and a fall on a triple Axel, six-time U.S. Champion Todd Eldredge pulled up to sixth overall with a respectable performance to the “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack that included two triple-triple combinations and everything else expected of a top contender except a quadruple jump. Eldredge’s performance was in every way better than the disastrous free skate from 1998 that left him in fourth place, but he has been surpassed technically during the past four years, two of which he spent on hiatus from the top eligible competitions.

Losing out to Eldredge by one judge, teammate Michael Weiss nevertheless delivered a quadruple toe-triple toe-double loop combination- the first ever performed by an American men and only the third clean quadruple jump of his career-before making a few errors on easier jumps later in his program to a Puccini medley. The remaining “old guy,” 1994 and 1998 Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, went out with not one, but two, quadruple toe combinations- something he was unable to land in either of his Olympic medal-winning skates- but ended up eighth despite just one visible error, stepping out of a triple Axel. Lacking the speed and finesse of the top contenders, Stojko skated from jump to jump in a program that is more than eight years old. Never shy of a challenge, he will compete in next month’s World Championships in Nagano in an attempt to earn Canada two spots for the 2003 World Championships in Washington, DC.

Despite their struggles, the presence of the older generation only magnified the degree to which the younger generation has pushed the sport. With top-notch performances by Eldredge, Weiss, and Stojko not even coming to close to the medal podium, one realizes the magnitude of the accomplishments of Yagudin, Plushenko, and Goebel, who have and will doubtlessly continue to raise the bar even higher.