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Galindo Gets His Moment and Men’s Title

January 21, 1996

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ After years of tragedy and hardship, skater Rudy Galindo finally got his moment of triumph.

In one of skating’s biggest upsets, Galindo won the men’s title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. His hometown crowd was on its feet 30 seconds before his free skate _ which earned him two perfect marks _ was over.

The crowd roared as he came to a stop, and Galindo quietly bowed his head to cross himself in honor of his father, brother, and the two coaches he has lost in recent years.

``I’m always thinking about all the tragedy, but that made me want to see if I could do better,″ an elated Galindo said after Saturday’s victory.

Galindo, 26, was twice a national pairs champion with Kristi Yamaguchi before she went on to solo success and an Olympic gold medal. In recent years, Galindo never placed higher than fifth in nationals.

As he struggled, Galindo’s personal life fell apart. Coach Jim Hulick died of colon cancer in 1989. His father Jess Galindo died of a heart attack in April 1993, and six months later his brother George died of AIDS. About a year ago, he lost coach Rick Inglesi to AIDS.

Last year, Galindo had had enough. Lacking the money and spirit to continue, he quit the sport for eight months.

His coach, sister Laura Galindo, encouraged his return. She said that tragedy made Galindo stronger _ and more deserving of his victory.

``I think every year there’s always been something going on for Rudy,″ she said. ``But this year there was no excuse. It was like, `Go out there and do it, Rudy.‴

Galindo is the first Mexican-American to win the national title and the oldest champion since Chris Christenson in 1926. He took the title from defending champion Todd Eldredge, who earned the silver medal. Dan Hollander, who like Galindo has never reached the podium, won the bronze.

``I think it’s probably the greatest upset that I’ve seen since I’ve been around,″ said Morry Stillwell, president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association who has been a judge and official for 30 years.

In addition to a trip to worlds in March, Galindo’s national title will lessen the financial strain of skating because it will bring at least $20,000 in training grants. At times, he has had to ride his bike to practice because he’s been broke.

``Obviously now I can pay for my training next year,″ he said. ``I won’t have to stand on the corner with a sign that says `I’ll work for food.‴

In the women’s competition, 15-year-old Michelle Kwan’s first national title was marred by a drama unfolding behind the scenes with defending champion Nicole Bobek.

Bobek, complaining of a tendinitis in her right ankle, withdrew just before her free skate Saturday after Kwan had a clean program. Tonia Kwiatkowski wound up with the silver and precocious 13-year-old Tara Lipinski won the the bronze.

The withdrawal forced the USFSA’s international committee into a vote to determine which skater _ Bobek or Lipinski _ should represent the United States at worlds with Kwan and Kwiatkowski.

The decision, made by the 25 members of the 35-person board who attended a meeting after the event, was to grant the spot to Lipinski. Bobek was made an alternate.

Bobek, meanwhile, broke into tears over her withdrawal.

``It’s not my choice,″ she said. ``I went out there and gave what I could.″

Bobek was criticized for skating while injured shortly before nationals in the ``Nutcracker on Ice″ show, for which she was well paid. Before the competition, coach Barbara Roles Williams had asked about the possibility of a bye but was told Bobek should skate.

Bobek’s supporters argued that, as the defending national champion, she should make the team, especially in light of injury considerations given to Todd Eldredge for the 1992 Olympics, and Nancy Kerrigan for the 1994 Olympics.

But coach Richard Callaghan, who helped Bobek to her national title last year and is now guiding Lipinski, thought otherwise.

``I think Tara has definitely earned the right,″ Callaghan said. ``The way she skated tonight, she’d do exceptional at worlds.″

Kwan, who maintained a quiet dignity in the midst of the controversy, became the third-youngest U.S. champion.

``I’m really happy with my performance,″ she said. ``I guess it was one of the best.″

In other events at the championships held this past week at the San Jose Arena, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand won their third straight pairs title. Kyoko Ina, who withdrew from the women’s competition because of a contusion to her right knee, won the silver with partner Jason Dungjen, while Brian Wells and Shelby Lyons were third.

Lyons, 14, also won the junior women’s competition, while Timothy Goebel was the men’s junior champion.

Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow edged rivals Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur in the dance comeptition. Eve Chalom and Matthew Gates took the bronze.