Eldredge Wins Sixth U.S. Title

Friday, January 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Ten years ago, when Michael Weiss was skating in juniors and Tim Goebel was 11 years old, Todd Eldredge went to the Olympics.

Next month, the old man goes back to the games, leading a strong American team that also includes Goebel and Weiss.

So much for age being a hindrance.

``To the people who said I was too old to do it again, well, I did it. Too bad for them,'' Eldredge said with a wide smile Thursday night after winning his sixth U.S. Figure Skating Championship. With it came Eldredge's third trip to the Olympics, while Weiss goes to his second and Goebel his first.

For Eldredge, 30, moving within one U.S. title of the record held by Dick Button and Roger Turner mostly meant he'd get another shot at Olympic glory. Not necessarily to win a medal, which would be tremendously satisfying for Eldredge, but to fill another void in his brilliant career.

``It has been very encouraging for me that I came back. It has been more difficult because of my age to work as hard as you need to work,'' he said of his return last season after a two-year hiatus. ``But I have had a goal and a dream of skating my best performances at the Olympic Games, and that is something I have not done yet, and I have another chance now to rectify it.''

Even without a quadruple jump, which he didn't do Thursday and has been the bane of his otherwise brilliant career, can he win a medal after falling short in Albertville and Nagano?

``Stranger things have happened,'' coach Richard Callaghan said. ``The Olympics are funny.''

They haven't drawn many laughs from Eldredge so far.

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

His quest for an Olympic medal incomplete, Eldredge returned last year, finishing second at nationals and third at worlds. Now, after seven clean triple jumps and a shaky one, he looks ahead to one final fulfilling performance at Salt Lake City.

``In your mind, you can imagine anything,'' Eldredge said. ``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.''

Weiss lends even more experience to the squad, while Goebel is the youthful jumper with improving artistry.

``In terms of us having a shot at a medal, I think the three of us do,'' said Weiss, who overcame nearly two years of disappointment to move from fifth after the short program to third Thursday night and onto the Olympic team.

``We all have been nationals champs and have won world medals and showed we can skate with the best in the world.''

That would be Russia's Alexei Yagudin and Yevgeny Plushchenko.

``In terms of the Russians being scared, you never know what is going to happen in figure skating,'' Weiss said. ``I think everyone should be scared.''

Weiss was afraid he was going to miss making the team, so he did some improvising. He fell on his opening jump, a planned quadruple toe-triple toe combination. But he almost immediately threw in another quad-triple jump _ he barely two-footed the quad landing _ and later added a triple axel-double toe combo.

Though his routine was marred by sloppy landings and the lack of a triple flip, Weiss was awarded with a trip 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.''

Goebel fought hard to defend his championship, but ultimately was beaten by Eldredge's superior artistry. Eldredge had nothing but 5.9s for presentation, lifting him over America's ``Quad King.''

``None of us had our best skate tonight,'' said Goebel, who nailed a quad salchow-triple toe loop combination, but fell on a quad toe loop. ``We have another month to train, a lot can change in a month.

``I am not even thinking about medals. This is my first Olympics. It's what I worked 16 years for.''