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A Real Gem Dandy
E.M. Swift
January 29, 1996
A sparkling performance by Michelle Kwan and a jewel of a comeback by Rudy Galindo provided the highlights at the national championships
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January 29, 1996

A Real Gem Dandy

A sparkling performance by Michelle Kwan and a jewel of a comeback by Rudy Galindo provided the highlights at the national championships

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Bobek has plenty of time to rest now. After the competition, the USFSA, ignoring its own precedents, refused to grant Bobek a bye onto the U.S. team. The top three finishers from the nationals will go to Edmonton in March: Kwan, Kwiatkowski and 13-year-old Tara Lipinski.

The message to future ice queens and fairy princesses was clear: This is the USFSA's show, and you play by its rules. (Remember Tonya and Nancy.) With all the opportunities now out there for both amateur and professional skaters, it's easy to lose sight of how the figure skating boom was launched. (Tonya and Nancy.) It wasn't the Hershey's Kisses Pro-Am Championships or the Nutcracker tour. It was...Tonya and Nancy, with the 1994 attack by associates of Harding on Kerrigan and the ensuing deluge of publicity. Now if competitors don't train properly, if the skaters practice till dawn for the Rock-and-Roll Skating Championships, where's that going to lead? (Tonya and Nicole?)

"In amateur skating we tend to lose our focus," says Kathy Casey, another of Bobek's former coaches. "With all these outside events and competitions, the skaters have improved their ability to perform to a crowd and entertain, but I don't think the level of amateur skating has improved. Where are all the triple-triple combinations?"

It seemed that they were all in Rudy Galindo's programs. He landed the two triple triples he tried, while defending champion Todd Eldredge, another member of the Nutcracker cast, landed, and attempted...hmm, let's count them...none. Same with Scott Davis, Casey's pupil and a former two-time national champion, who slid all the way to fifth—proof that not everything that went wrong in San Jose could be attributed to Tchaikovsky. Davis turned down an offer to tour with the Nutcracker.

Galindo, who lives in a trailer park in San Jose with his mother, had no such offers. As skating's star has risen, Galindo was all but left behind—until he provided the nationals with the most stirring men's performance in years.

Galindo is not a stranger to the winner's spot on the podium. He and Yamaguchi were U.S. pairs champions in 1989 and '90, before Yamaguchi gave up pairs skating to dedicate herself to singles. That was shortly after the start of a run of ill fortune that nearly drove Galindo from the sport. It began in '89, when Jim Hulick, the coach who put Galindo and Yamaguchi together, died of AIDS-related cancer. That was the first of four deaths that left Galindo wondering if he was cursed. In '93 his father, Jess, died of a heart attack and his 35-year-old brother, George, died of AIDS. Last year Rick Inglesi, Galindo's second coach, also succumbed to the disease.

Galindo is gay. He doesn't talk about it much publicly, in part because his outlandish costumes and effeminate manner have done him no favors with the staid figure skating establishment—the judges and USFSA officials—which prefers its gay male skaters and coaches to remain in the closet. Galindo could never say that his lifestyle cost him a medal, because his skating was never before consistent enough under pressure to make him a serious contender in singles. He was fifth in 1993 but fell to seventh in '94 and to eighth in '95.

For six months after last year's disappointment at the nationals, Galindo quit training. He was broke and disillusioned. No one in the skating establishment called to ask Galindo to give it one more try. No one offered him a spot on a tour. To raise money, he began giving skating lessons. But he believed in his art, still loved to practice and kept thinking that with the nationals coming to San Jose, how nice it would be to skate in a place where people were pulling for him rather than against him.

So during the fall he resumed training. He hired his sister, Laura—who came free—as his coach, and since he didn't have money to hire a choreographer, he created his own programs. From the start the training went well. Galindo has always been an artistic and imaginative spinner. But his jumps—rather, his failure to land them—had always been his undoing, especially during the short program.

So it was something of a shock last Thursday when, wearing a judge-unfriendly goatee and earring, Galindo pulled off a flawless short program that included the only triple Axel-triple toe among the top three men. If he'd had a reputation with the judges, he might have placed first. As it was, Eldredge, who also skated without a mistake, earned the top marks. Davis, who touched a hand to the ice on a double Axel, was second, and Galindo was third.

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