- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) Todd skipped the quad, yet soared to his sixth U.S. title.

Making it even sweeter, Todd Eldredge is headed for his third Olympics, hoping to grab the medal that has eluded him.

Joining Eldredge and Goebel in next month's Salt Lake City Games will be Michael Weiss of Fairfax, Va., who overcame nearly two years of frustration physically and on the ice to finish third.

Despite not attempting the quadruple jump that has been the bane of his otherwise brilliant career, Eldredge used surpassing artistry to beat defending champion Tim Goebel last night in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

They were tied after the short program, but Eldredge won the free skate with his spins, footwork and eight triple jumps.

"In your mind, you can imagine anything," said Eldredge, who didn't even compete for two years after the Nagano Olympics. "That's part of the reason I came back. You dream certain things and you hope to achieve those dreams. One of those was achieved tonight. Hopefully I've got one left for next month."

Eldredge is behind only Dick Button and Roger Turner, who each won seven national championships. Just as significantly, he gets to pursue the Olympic medal that escaped his grasp twice before.

Chosen for the team in 1992 despite missing nationals with a back injury, Eldredge was not in shape at Albertville and wound up 10th. A bad case of the flu cost him a spot in 1994, but he came back to win his fifth U.S. crown in 1998. At Nagano, after a solid short program, he stumbled badly in the free skate and finished fourth.

His quest for an Olympic medal incomplete, Eldredge returned to the scene last year, finishing second at nationals and third at worlds. Now, he looks ahead to one final fulfilling performance at Salt Lake City.

Goebel heads to his first Olympics as the only American who can jump with Russian stars Alexei Yagudin and Yevgeny Plushchenko. He will need every one of his quads and then some to push them. And Eldredge.

Goebel easily nailed most of his jumps in a smooth routine to "An American In Paris" that would have made Gene Kelly comfortable. The only blemishes: a fall on a quadruple toe loop after he'd hit a quad salchow-triple toe combination, and a hand to the ice on the first of two triple axels.

Far less stiff after working with coach Frank Carroll and choreographer Lori Nichol, Goebel still didn't collect overwhelming artistic marks, leaving plenty of room for Eldredge, who then swept the nine judges.

Asked if he thought he deserved to go to Salt Lake as national champion, Goebel said, "I don't know. He's been around a lot longer and been the world champion [in 1996]."

Weiss, the 1999 and 2000 U.S. champ who has struggled ever since and is having a poor season, sneaked into third and onto his second Olympic team. He did so in vastly different fashion than in '98, when he closely challenged Eldredge for the national crown.

Weiss fell on his opening jump, a planned quadruple toe-triple toe combination. But knowing he needed a quick spark, Weiss almost immediately improvised, trying another quad-triple jump and later throwing in a triple axel-double toe combo.

"I had a semiplan," he admitted. "I think that is the first time I put a second quad in."

Though his routine was marked by sloppy landings and the lack of a triple flip, Weiss was awarded enough high marks to send him to Salt Lake.

"I want to be on this team really badly, and I guess it showed," he said. "I am happy. This was a very stressful couple days for me. I didn't expect to fight like this."

In the women's competition, Michelle Kwan won the short program. Kwan won seven judges, while Sasha Cohen and Angela Nikodinov each got one. Sarah Hughes was a close third, and Nikodinov was fourth in the incredibly strong event.

The free skate, worth two-thirds of the final score, is tomorrow. The top three skaters make the Olympic team.

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