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Wednesday, February 20, 2002
 
American plans now just professional skating

Associated Press


SALT LAKE CITY -- Todd Eldredge doesn't want to be remembered for his Olympic disappointments. He hopes his successes through a dozen years at figure skating's highest level will define his career.

Eldredge retired from Olympic-eligible skating Wednesday, announcing he will skip next month's world championships and move into the tour-dominated professional level. He still hopes to compete in pro events, but he is done with the Olympic grind.

This time, for good.

"Was I content with what I'd done in the sport?" he said. "I thought about everything and I came to the conclusion this is really the place, the fans standing and going crazy, that's the way to finish it off."

Matt Savoie, who finished fourth when Eldredge won his sixth national title last month, will go to Nagano, Japan, for worlds instead of Eldredge.

Eldredge, 30, finished sixth at these games. He also was fourth in 1998 and 10th in 1992.

"That I was able to compete at that high a level for that long a time, not many people are able to do that," Eldredge said. "There might be a blank spot in the awards cabinet, but there are a lot of things that can fill that blank spot. Like standing in the middle of the rink and have the crowd here cheering for the effort."

Eldredge left the Olympic ranks after his disappointing showing in the 1998 Games, when he was a medals favorite, but botched the free skate and dropped to fourth. He took a two-year hiatus in which he skated in pro-ams sanctioned by the International Skating Union, thus keeping his eligibility.

He returned in 2001 to finish second at the U.S. championships and third at worlds -- his sixth world championships medal, including the gold in 1996. Then he won nationals in Los Angeles for the sixth time, becoming the oldest U.S. champion.

In all, he has U.S. championships at three levels (novice, junior and senior), and only Dick Button and Roger Turner, with seven, won more American senior crowns.

"I'm assuming Dick Button is happy he'll hold onto the seven nationals mark," Eldredge said with a laugh.

Throughout his career, Eldredge remained with coach Richard Callaghan, a rarity in figure skating. Callaghan was genuinely happy Eldredge ended his career on his terms -- even without an Olympic medal.

"Over the 20 years, he has continued to have the same drive and motivation as when he was a little kid, and I appreciate that," said Callaghan, who worked with Eldredge at rinks in Massachusetts, California and Michigan. "I never had to force him into training or into his skates.

"The more I work with other kids today, the more I see how special that is."

Even the Olympics, despite the results, have been special times for Eldredge. He's enjoyed the experience of marching in the opening ceremony, hanging out in the athletes' village and meeting competitors from other sports.

He was one of eight athletes chosen to carry the tattered U.S. flag from the World Trade Center in the opening ceremony almost two weeks ago.

"The Olympics have to be fun, or why bother going after them?" he said. "I have some great memories from being in the Olympics."

And some disheartening ones.

In 1992, nursing a back injury that forced him out of the U.S. championships, he was given a bye onto the Olympic team. But, out of competitive shape, he finished 10th.

Two years later, the flu stripped him of his strength at nationals and he didn't make the U.S. team for the Lillehammer Games.

And in '98, ranked second in the world and coming off his fifth U.S. title, he fell apart in the free skate.

"If everything goes great, and you skate perfect all the time, you don't learn anything," he said. "You improve yourself with making mistakes, or else you stay the same all the time, and that is not what you want.

"I have been fortunate I was able to come back from some of the not-so-great times. That's one of the things that definitely shaped my career."

A career he ended with a smile Wednesday.