Eldredge's Olympic struggles continue in short programPosted: Wednesday February 13, 2002 2:33 AM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Todd Eldredge put his hands on top of his head and stared into the crowd, a dazed look on his face.
He hadn't even been looking for a medal this time. Two clean programs and he could walk away knowing he finally had the Olympic experience he's sought for 10 years.
But even that satisfaction seems too much to ask.
"I felt great, which is what makes it so disappointing," Eldredge said after a disastrous performance in Tuesday night's short program left him in ninth place. "That's the way it goes, sometimes."
Fellow American Timothy Goebel is in third place, while Michael Weiss is eighth. The free skate, worth two-thirds of the final score, is Thursday night.
Eldredge is one of the best skaters in U.S. history, with six national championships and the 1996 world title to his name. But the Olympics are his personal demon.
In 1992, nursing a back injury and 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 squad 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 and finished fourth.
He spent two years away from the Olympic-level grind, but decided to come back for one last shot. It wasn't about a medal anymore, though winning one would have been nice.
"I want to have a good experience, and leave the Olympics happy that I came here and did what I wanted to do," he said last week.
This wasn't close to what he had in mind.
He two-footed the landing of that dreaded quadruple toe loop jump, then doubled the second half of the combination. But that wasn't his worst problem.
Trying to compensate for his first mistake, he overdid it on his triple axel and crashed to the ice.
"I just respect his perseverance and his ability. You want to see someone like that have a great skate," said Richard Callaghan, Eldredge's longtime coach. "And he didn't have that tonight."
As his music stopped, Eldredge gave a slight shake of his head and put his hands on his hips. The crowd, which has always been on his side, applauded as if he was in first place.
His marks ranged from 4.6 to 5.1 for required elements and 5.5 to 5.7 for artistry. As the marks flashed, he shrugged his shoulders.
Goebel, however, couldn't have been happier.
"I was actually thrilled with how I skated tonight," he said. "I've never gotten a crowd response like that. It was amazing."
Eldredge is one spot behind Weiss, who skated respectably, but was doomed by his spot in the draw. Skating first, with the rest of the top men still to go, he got marks lower than a two-time world bronze medalist would usually see.
His technical scores ranged from 4.9 to 5.4. Of course, he didn't give the judges much reason to mark him up. He two-footed his quadruple toe loop jump and then cut the second jump in the combination down to a double toe.
He more than made up for his mistakes with his presence on the ice. Skating to "Malaguena," he looked like a sultry Spanish dancer, with sharp arm movements and strong facial expressions.
He was practically flying across the ice during his footwork, matching every beat and accent of the music. And his final combination spin was spectacular, so tight he could have fit his revolutions on a dime.
"Had I done that program at the end of the competition, I think the results would've been a different story," Weiss said.
When he finished, he screamed, "Yes" and pumped his fists.
That's the kind of ending Eldredge wanted. And unlike Nagano, when he fell apart in the free skate, he knows he has another shot.
"If he leaves the ice happy with his performance, than he's accomplished what he wanted," Callaghan said.
And if not?
"I have no regrets," Eldredge said. "Not a lot of people get the chance to say they've been to three Olympics, so that's something."