Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Updated: February 13, 3:29 AM ET
Eldredge, Stojko fall short in Olympic swan songs
By Jim Caple
They've been part of figure skating so long they can almost remember when Scott Hamilton had hair.
In fact, Todd Eldredge and Elvis Stojko have been around so long that they were competing when figures still were a part of figure skating -- and those went out practically before Dorothy Hamill's wedge hairdo. But when they complete their third Olympics in Thursday night's free program, those two veterans will quietly leave the ice without worrying about setting off the security detectors with the medals they so long coveted.
After stumbling on a quad toe-double toe combo in Tuesday's short program, Eldredge is ninth and will finish his Olympic career without ever winning a medal. After stepping out of a quad toe, Elvis is seventh and will leave the building without the gold medal that once was so close it had almost been devalued by the Canadian exchange rate.
"I thought I would be more upset but that isn't the case," Eldredge said. "For whatever reason, I'm not. Maybe it was deciding to make the comeback and following it through and doing as well as I have -- I won six championships and that's pretty darn good."
Edlredge won those six world championships but never skated his best when it mattered most. He finished 10th at the 1992 Olympics and a very disappointing fourth in Nagano, after which most people thought would end his Olympic career -- Eldredge included.
Instead, he took a couple years off, returned to the Olympic eligible ranks and won the U.S. trials last month.
He talked Saturday about finally achieving that elusive great Olympic moment. He's still waiting.
He went back and forth over whether he should include a quad-toe, the bane of his existence, then decided "What the hell, why not go for it" during his warmup. He was wobbly on the landing but the quad wasn't the problem. It was the stumble he took on his accompanying double-toe.
That pretty much was that for his medal hopes, but he fell on a triple axel just for good measure. It was so bad that he received marks as low as 4.6 and 4.7, scores you would have expected for Chris Farley in that old Saturday Night Live routine. Eldredge looked at them with a "What are you going to do?" shrug.
"I still had fun out there which is the strange thing," he said. "The crowd was so supportive, which made all the mistakes easier to take."
Two very supportive fans even yelled, "We love you, Todd!" loudly enough to drown out Dick Vitale. "They don't know me and I don't have a clue who they were," Eldredge said. "And that's good. They're still supporting me even when I don't skate my best."
Stojko won the silver in Lillehammer and won it again in Nagano when he essentially was skating on one leg because of a severe injury. Many advised him to retire but when he finally was healthy again last year, he decided he wanted one more shot at the Olympic gold.
This has been a rough Olympics for the Canadians, however, with Monday just about the country's worst day since Anne Murray recorded "Snowbird." Gold medal favorite Jeremy Wotherspoon fell during the men's 500 and then pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier finished second to the Russians in a judges ruling that left the country howling.
"I always feel like I'm skating for Canada but it meant a little more than that tonight," Stojko said. "And they showed so much support for me here that I wasn't just skating for Canada, but for all North America."
He needn't have bothered.
Stojko stepped out of a quad at the start of his performance, which did him in. He skated well, if unspectacularly, after that but the judges still hammered him, giving him technical marks as low as 4.9 and 5.0. Perhaps it was a bit of payback for the Canadians complaining so loudly the previous night. Whatever the reason, Stojko just shook his head when they went up on the board.
Bear in mind, reigning world champ Evgeni Plushenko also missed a quad when he fell on his keister, but he still received no marks lower than a 5.3 and got three 5.9s for presentation.
"Didn't Pleshenko get some 5.9s on his second marks?" sniffed Frank Carroll, who coaches Timothy Goebel. "That's interesting to me. If you get that when you fall down, what do you get when you stand up? A 6.0?"
Then again, Carroll is always whining about the judges. He spent part of a press conference a couple days ago complaining that Paul Wylie got hosed in 1992.
Anyway, the two veterans have one final routine Thursday night, with nothing left to lose.
Unfortunately, they have nothing left to win, either.
"I've been through the ups and downs with all the styles but I've carved my own place out in the sport," Stojko said. "I've pushed the sport ahead and I feel good about that because not too many people have a chance to say that."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.