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Thursday, February 14, 2002
Updated: February 15, 3:42 AM ET
 
Yagudin wins; Goebel brings home bronze

Associated Press


SALT LAKE CITY -- Alexei Yagudin was so perfect there was no doubting this Russian gold.

Yagudin won his duel with teammate and rival Evgeni Plushenko to take the Olympic men's gold Thursday night. Tim Goebel finished third, the first time since 1992 that an American man won a medal in the event.

Alexei Yagudin
Alexei Yagudin swept the short program and free skate in Salt Lake City.

Yagudin received all 5.9s on the scoreboard -- except for four perfect 6.0s for artistry. No other man had ever earned more than one perfect mark at the Olympics.

On this night, the figure skating world could celebrate Yagudin and forget about a judging controversy.

"I don't really care what happened in the pairs event. That's not my business," he said. "I know I really deserve what I am wearing around my neck."

Goebel showed why he is the "Quad King," becoming the first Olympian to hit three of the four-revolution jumps in the games. He also displayed improved artistry in becoming the first American to win a medal since Paul Wylie won silver at the Albertville Games.

"I skated as well as I can skate, and I was just so happy to go out there and put it out under pressure," Goebel said.

As for getting a medal, he added: "I was sweating it a little bit."

But when Alexander Abt and Takeshi Honda couldn't match Goebel's performance, he was on the podium.

Yagudin stood proudly on the top step as the third straight Russian men's champion. For the three-time world champion who finished fifth at the Nagano Games, it was a dynamic showing.

"I began to dream about this four years ago when I went to Nagano," Yagudin said. "It was really hard for me, but that stimulated me for four years. There, I finally realized I can do it."

He did it by nailing everything, including two quads, one as part of a three-jump combo. He skated as the "Man in the Iron Mask," wearing a costume with a bronzed breast plate and wielding an imaginary sword as he flashed around the ice.

When the 21-year-old Yagudin was done, he collapsed to his knees, then kissed the ice. He knew this was a moment of a lifetime, and by the time he reached the "Kiss and Cry" area, he was bawling.

The quick-witted Yagudin, who spends much of his time in the United States, said he was showing his appreciation for his part-time home.

"I just fell to my knees and kiss the ice because I live here and won the gold medal here," he said.

His head was buried in his hands while the 5.9s and 6.0s flashed across the scoreboard.

"It was like in some good dream up there," he said.

"I was just thinking of the hard times I went through," said Yagudin, who had a high fever in Nagano and was plagued by injuries last season. "Last season was like hell, but I am strong and I just showed that.

"It is one of my best."

And one of the best the Olympics have ever seen.

Yagudin swept the short program and free skate with the technique and artistry that have highlighted his career when he is healthy.

He joined 1994 Olympic gold medalist Alexei Urmanov and '98 winner Ilia Kulik as Russian champions. The 1992 gold medal went to Victor Petrenko of Ukraine, who was trained in the same system that has produced the current men's dynasty.

Americans Todd Eldredge and Michael Weiss finished sixth and seventh.

World champion Plushenko didn't mess up his free skate the way he botched the short program on Tuesday night. There were no falls and he also did a triple axel-half loop-triple flip, a very rare and difficult combo. The complexity of his moves lifted the 19-year-old Plushenko to the silver.

Goebel did all three quads with ease: a salchow and two toe loops. With 15 seconds remaining in his routine, to "An American in Paris," the crowd already was standing in raucous celebration.

His coach, Frank Carroll, was jumping in the air at the sideboards as Goebel hit his third quad.

And to chants of "U-S-A, "U-S-A," Goebel's marks gave him the bronze.

"It's great we've got an American man back on the podium," Goebel said. "Any of the three of us could have medaled, and I'm really happy it's me."

Unlike in pairs, when the judging sparked figure skating's latest scandal, there were no signs of impropriety. On Monday night, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia won the gold by the slimmest margin over Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada.

Not that the pairs furor was forgotten. One banner said: "Drug Test The Athletes, Polygraph the Judges."

Takeshi Honda's emotionally charged performance to "Concerto de Aranjuez," was not completely clean, and it was much less ambitious than he planned. Second in the short program, the 20-year-old Japanese skater finished fourth.

Eldredge had just one error, following previous Olympic performances that weren't up to the standards of a six-time national champion and former world-title winner. He was 10th in 1992 and fourth in '98, despite being a gold-medal contender.

The mistake was the usual one, falling on a quad toe loop at the outset of the program.

But then Eldredge showed why he has been a champion for more than a decade. He hit every other element, including eight triples. He skated far slower than normal, perhaps trying to savor his final Olympic moments.

When he was done, the old man of the American team at 30 threw a kiss to the crowd in the middle of a loud, flag-waving standing ovation. He then shook the hand of the next skater, his longtime rival Elvis Stojko of Canada, and sat down to see his marks.

Eldredge, at his last Olympics, said he will most remember "the end of the program, standing in the middle of the ice, listening to the crowd go nuts and just enjoying that moment."

Still, there was no medal.

"It is not the placement I had hoped for or dreamed for," Eldredge said, "but sometimes that's the way it goes. Sometimes dreams don't come true, but you can't stop dreaming."

Weiss, seventh at the Nagano Games, said he had at least 35 family members in the arena to see him finish seventh again.

His free skate featured the night's first clean three-jump combination, a quad toe-triple toe-double loop, of the evening. Although Weiss made some errors later on, it was a strong showing for the 1999 and 2001 national champion and world bronze medalist.

"I have been hitting that in practice, so I decided if I was going to make any kind of move here, I had to do something good," Weiss said. "Landing that at a competition like this, that is a pretty cool feat."

Stojko, the silver medalist in the last two games, finished his Olympic career eighth.