Go get 'em, tiger. There was just one problem with that defiant attitude: Stojko didn't bring that big weapon to Nagano. He pulled his groin during the Canadian championships last month, and the injury—which was kept secret—hadn't healed. All week long Stojko skated through his Nagano practices without trying any quad-triple combos, which for onlookers was like attending a sumo match to watch Akebono pour tea. "We tried to push our way through the injury," says Leigh. "It was work, recover, work, recover. We took a lot of days off."
Stojko's groin held up in his brilliant short program, but he reaggravated it early in his long program. He tripled his quad attempt, which took the air out of the program, and as he continued to skate, the pain got progressively worse. Stojko still landed eight triple jumps, which earned him the silver medal, but the spirit of Elvis had long since left the building—and Elvis himself followed a short time later, on his way to the Athletes' Village clinic for treatment. "We gave it our best shot," Leigh said. "If there's a medal for courage, he should have gotten that."
Make no mistake, even a healthy Stojko would have been no match for Kulik, who lands his huge jumps with the lightness of a dragonfly touching down. His back remains straight, his arms and free leg are extended, and he flows into the next element as smoothly as hot sake cutting through ice. Kulik is one more in a seemingly endless stream of Russian skating champions. The gold medal in pairs was won by Artur Dmitriev—he has two now, plus a silver—and his new partner Oksana Kazakova, who edged out their St. Petersburg training partners, Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya. A Russian or Soviet pair has won the gold for 10 consecutive Games—a streak that goes back to the Innsbruck Olympics of 1964.
On Monday—big surprise here, folks—the Russians made it 3 for 3 in Nagano when Pasha (Don't-call-me-a-Madonna-look-alike-call-me-a-Sharon-Stone-look-alike) Grishuk and Evgeny Platov won the gold medal in ice dancing for the second straight time, a first for that sport, if something can be considered a sport when the results are known ahead of time. Grishuk and Platov could have keeled over and died on the ice, and they still would have won. Three times this season it looked as if Platov did, in fact, the on the ice, taking hard falls. Nevertheless, the judges placed them first each time, just as they did last Friday, when Grishuk stumbled during the compulsory waltz. Always, the judges had Russia's other pair, Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov, second. And so it goes.
The secret of Grishuk and Platov's success? "Like cows make the milk, we make the steps," says Grishuk, mink-encased and shaking with laughter at the funny she just made. "It's natural for us."
Yet she's right. The Russian skaters are true to their nature. Grishuk dresses with outrageous abandon, and she skates with outrageous abandon. It is the key to Russian skating. "I try to do what my soul is telling me to do," says Kulik, who switched coaches in 1996, moving to Marlborough, Mass., to train under the theatrical Tatiana Tarasova, who also coaches Grishuk and Platov. "Before, I had enough technically, but I was missing a crucial link. She helped me discover that link." Russian skaters are unsurpassed technically, but they expose more of their emotions on ice than skaters from other countries. It can be subtle (the love conveyed in the skating of Ekaterina Gordeeva and the late Sergei Grinkov) or melodramatic (Dmitriev and Kazakova).
"With most skaters you can see them thinking: I'm going to do this, and then this, and then this," says Peter Carruthers, a U.S. silver medalist in pairs in 1984. "With the Russians, they're out there. Sometimes they go over the edge and look a little ragged. But it comes from the heart, not the mind."
Kulik isn't all the way there yet. This was, after all, his first Olympics. There is still a youthful quality to his skating—a coolness, a hint of sloppiness, the garish attire worn by the artist as a young man—that should be gone by the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. For a hottie with so much blaze in his blades, one gold medal seems hardly enough.