- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Raised in a different generation of figure skating, Todd Eldredge is one of the old guys.
He was around when compulsory figures helped determine champions. He knows a pre-Tonya Harding figure skating world that had little exposure and limited financial opportunity for athletes. He competed when quadruple jumps were seldom tried and certainly weren't a necessary part of competition.
He's 30 years old, and in figure skating, that's ancient. He's not supposed to be spending any time in Salt Lake City this month. After five national titles, a world title and two trips to the Olympics, he was supposed to turn professional quietly about four years ago.
But for Eldredge, age really is just a number. He made everyone else agree with him when he won his sixth national title in Los Angeles last month, an unimaginable 12 years after winning his first. If he wanted to gloat to his critics, now would be a good time.
Only that's not his style.
"The fact that I went there and skated as well as I did made me feel great," Eldredge said in his soft, good-natured manner. "To know all the people who said I was too old, maybe had to take their words back."
Maybe? More like definitely. His win at nationals was more than just a in-your-face slap to his critics; it was a testament to Eldredge's talent and longevity.
Instead of relaxing with Stars on Ice, Eldredge begins his last shot for an Olympic medal during the men's short program tonight. In a cutthroat business with a chance to win only every four years, the Medal That Got Away is the story of many accomplished skaters. An athlete almost needs a little luck, and Eldredge's luck has been bad.
In Albertville in 1992, he fell on an easy double axel in the short program and finished 10th overall. He caught the flu in 1994 and didn't make the team that went to Lillehammer. He was back for the 1998 Games in Nagano and was third after the short program. Then his free skate went awry, and he dropped to a heartbreaking fourth.
Most expected Eldredge would turn pro and make some cash after the disappointment of Nagano. He didn't do that. But he wasn't making a run for the top events anymore either, which left him in a world in between.
He took 21/2 years to rest and think, and at the end of his hiatus, Eldredge who had carefully maintained his Olympic eligibility decided to return.
"I thought to myself, 'These guys are doing the same things we were doing a few years ago.' I wasn't outdated, so to speak," Eldredge said.
For the most part, the technical side of men's skating hasn't changed. The triple jumps and the spirals are the same. So are the spins, and Eldredge is unofficially known as the best in the world for his.
But the quadruple jump is the one area where men's skating has advanced. The quad is no longer a bonus skill but a virtual requirement. The top skaters have moved beyond simply landing one; they attempt three in one program or perform them in combination.
Eldredge practices the quad as much as the rest of them do, but his landing percentage isn't great. He has been trying the jump since 1996 and has completed only one in competition. U.S. skater Tim Goebel who was 9 when Eldredge won his first national title has already landed more than 50.
Richard Callaghan, Eldredge's longtime coach, who also lifted Tara Lipinski to Olympic gold, says the quad has been harder for Eldredge because he started practicing it so much later in his career.
Will Eldredge pull off the quad? The question is posed every time he competes. Supposedly a male skater can't win a competition in this day and age without a four-rotation jump. Yet Eldredge didn't land one at nationals and still beat silver medalist Goebel and bronze medalist Michael Weiss, both of whom landed quads.
"The quad jump is five seconds of a four-and-a-half minute program," said Callaghan, who initially was against Eldredge's comeback. "The experience he's developed over the years plays a really important part in the overall mark."
Olympic experience is what Eldredge will have over the young guns in Salt Lake.
"I think pretty much anything that could happen at this Olympics, I've either been through before or have seen before," he said.
Eldredge undoubtedly will deal with comments about his "old age" throughout the Games. He competes in a community that marveled when 26-year-old Rudy Galindo won the national title in 1996 and became the oldest male champion in four decades. Eldredge has him beat by four years.
"You're not supposed to win a U.S. championship when you're 30 years old," said ABC commentator Peter Carruthers.
He's not supposed to win an Olympic medal this year either, but Eldredge just might. Quadruple jumps and age aside, his artistry and spins are as good as they get.
No matter what happens in Salt Lake, this is it for Todd Eldredge and amateur skating. Most skaters won't give a definite answer about their post-Olympic plans until after they see how they perform at the Games. When the subject comes up around Eldredge, his answer is a firm, "No."
But his quick remark is followed by a laugh, typical of his disposition.
"Salt Lake's gonna come and go, and I'm going to do my best," he said. "But if I come home without a medal, I'll move on. The Olympics don't make somebody's entire career. It's been a long career and it's been fun, but it's time to move on and do other things with the sport."

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