While Michelle Kwan Soared at the figure skating nationals, the men hit the deck
WHEN THE Battle of the Sexes is finally surrendered and women have taken over the planet, anthropologists will look back on the 2001 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston as the event that turned the tide, proving beyond question that when the pressure is high, the ladies are mentally tougher and better prepared. With the Salt Lake City Olympics only 13 months away and only two spots available at the world championships in Vancouver in March, America's finest male skaters put on two pratfall-filled evenings of FleetCenter fun. Pies in the face would not have been out of place.
Leading this merry chase were three men who now have eight U.S. singles titles among them: Tim Goebel (one), Michael Weiss (two) and Todd Eldredge (five), all of whom have apparently been sneaking lessons from Michael Richards. Each seemed determined to outslapstick the others. Weiss, the two-time defending champ, led after the short program but fell twice in his freestyle, stepped out of two jumps and failed to land a single combination. It was a performance that wouldn't have defended the novice title, and he sank to fourth.
Eldredge fared almost as badly. Coming back after a two-year hiatus from Olympic-style competition, the 29-year-old former world champ botched the combination jump in his short program, then doubled four planned triple jumps in the freestyle and tripled a quad. Such a collection of gaffes should have dropped him from contention, but amid this nightmare on Causeway Street it was judged to be the second-best skate of the night. "I'm just happy I got out alive," Eldredge said, echoing the sentiment of the 15,173 spectators.
The champion of this Boston Ass-Over-Teakettle Party? Twenty-year-old Goebel, who won his first U.S. crown despite muffing two landings in his short program and then falling in Saturday afternoon's freestyle on one of his three quads. The so-called King of Quads—Goebel has landed 27 in competition—did complete one four-revolution jump cleanly and doubled another. That made him one-for-three on the night, a good batting average in baseball. It's not exactly the recipe for success in skating, however, especially for Goebel, who has issues in the area of artistry. His posture is hunched, his stroking unsightly, and his spins resemble the last go-rounds of a wobbling corn, and that's after improving in those areas since switching to Frank Carroll, Michelle Kwan's coach, last summer. "This was not our best night" Goebel said, "but as Frank tells me at least once a week, 'It's not the perfect skater who wins, it's the best one.' "
That would have been Kwan. The 20-year-old UCLA sophomore survived a bobble early in her free skate to hold off an amazing field of women and win her fifth title in six years. Behind her, Sarah Hughes, 15, Angela Nikodinov, 20, Jennifer Kirk, 16, and Amber Corwin, 22, all skated brilliantly under pressure. Kwan was still queen, however, reeling in nine perfect 6.0s for presentation from the judges, including seven after her short program, which was as close to a perfect 2:40 of skating as you'll see.
Unfortunately, on Saturday night, early in her freestyle program, Kwan ratcheted back a planned triple toe—triple toe combination into a disappointing double-double. Kwan has done this far too often. While it hardly matters when she skates before a panel of U.S. judges, who value her artistry above all else, Kwan should know that international judges expect more athleticism. Twice already this season she has lost to Russia's Irina Slutskaya, who lands triple-triple combinations with ease and will stand between Kwan and her first Olympic gold medal. "I'm pretty disappointed I didn't do the triple-triple," Kwan said. "I've been working really hard at it, and it's been going well in practice, but when it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. What can I say? It's back to the rink."
Stand out of the way, boys. In fact, wait until they send in the clowns.
High School Sub-Four
Webb's Run for The Ages
On a sultry night last May in Charlotte, Alan Webb failed in his attempt to become the first high school runner in 33 years to break four minutes for the mile. His superb condition was undercut by an uneven pace and the beginnings of a hip injury that would curtail his junior season. Still, he refused to claim even a moral victory from his PR of 4:033. "I had a goal, and I didn't get it," Webb said that evening, "but the goal is still out there."