Late last summer, Bowman switched from his longtime coach, Frank Carroll, to Toller Cranston and choreographer Ellen Burka. When asked about the change before the start of these championships, Bowman surprised both the assembled press and his coaches by sobbing uncontrollably as he tried to answer. After 18 years together, he and Carroll, it seems, no longer speak to each other.
Cranston's first order of business after Bowman joined him was to get his new charge to lose 15 pounds. Then he needed to work on reestablishing Bowman's credibility with figure skating's judges and officials, most of whom had long ago tired of the juvenile antics, on ice and off, of Bowman the Showman, the self-proclaimed "Hans Blinker from hell."
"We had to turn the cheeseburger into filet mignon," Cranston said. "That meant serious music, serious skating, serious colors. For his two programs, we have dipped him in black."
When Bowman took the ice for Friday's original program, his face was so pale and the rest of him—from his dyed hair to his skates—was so black that he looked a little like Grandpa Munster. But he skated like the Bowman of 1989. Despite not trying a triple Axel combination, which, along with those 15 pounds, he had somehow lost along the way, Bowman outpointed Eldredge and the rest of the field in the eyes of both the judges and the crowd. Eldredge, looking wooden-legged and unnerved, was second.
In Sunday's free skating competition, which counted for two thirds of the scoring, Eldredge's killer instinct reemerged. Skating first, Bowman was convincing, if slow, during a program that was almost error-free. He landed the only triple Axel he tried and kept his trademark muggings and preenings to a minimum—succumbing to temptation just twice, once in front of a judge, the other time in front of a TV camera.
Bowman's marks were mostly 5.8's. As Eldredge waited to skate, he felt relaxed and confident, even though he knew he had little room for error. He opened by landing a jump more challenging than anything Bowman had tried, a triple Axel-triple toe combination. After that, he seemed to grow in both stature and poise. Eldredge, who has been criticized for appearing too mechanical on the ice, has tried to improve his style by taking ballet lessons for the past year, and they have clearly had an effect. Late in the 4�-minute program, a second triple Axel—he had seven flawless triples—cemented the win for Eldredge.
Still, Bowman could skate away from these nationals with his dipped-in-ink head held high. He may have been defeated, but he'd also been declowned.