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Kulik Wins Men’s Skating Gold

February 14, 1998

NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ No one was going to steal this show from Ilya Kulik.

Only the thespian skills of Philippe Candeloro could come close. But the Frenchman started too far back, and Kulik was just too darn good.

Actually, he was as near-perfect as a skater can be in giving Russia its second straight men’s figure skating gold medal at the Olympics tonight with a scintillating performance in the free skate.

Elvis Stojko of Canada won the silver medal for the second straight time, but his performance was flat and he was helped from the arena moments after he finished with a groin injury.

Candeloro took the bronze, as he had done at Lillehammer.

American Todd Eldredge never got his rhythm on the biggest night of his career and slipped to fourth. It was the second straight Olympics the U.S. men failed to medal.

``Throughout the whole program, most of my jumps I had to pull out of them,″ he said. ``They weren’t easy. I was a little bit more fatigued than I should have been.

``It is another step on the road of life and we move from here.″

Eldredge finished behind Candeloro, whose portrait of ``D’Artagnan″ convinced the audience he was one of the Three Musketeers and convinced the judges _ especially his countrywoman, who gave him a 6.0 for artistry _ that he should be one of the three medalists.

But this night clearly belonged to Kulik. His victory in the short program Thursday night was very close. His win in the free skate, worth two-thirds of the total score, couldn’t have been more decisive.

Kulik, 20, follows Alexei Urmanov to the top of the podium and is the third straight skater from a former Soviet republic to take the gold. Viktor Petrenko of Ukraine did it in 1992.

The Russians also won the pairs and lead in the dance.

Kulik became the first skater since Dick Button in 1948 to take the gold in his initial Olympics. He did so with a marvelous set of jumps, highlighted by a massive quadruple toe loop and two solid triple axels, one in combination.

His footwork to Gershwin’s ``Rhapsody in Blue″ was playful, his spins precise.

And when his 4 1/2-minute skate to glory was over, Kulik dropped his ultraserious demeanor and lit up the arena with his smile.

There were no smiles for Stojko, 25, a three-time world champion and silver medalist at the 1994 Games, who first hurt his groin at the Canadian championships in January. After his lackluster routine, he sat for several minutes in the kiss and cry area, unable to walk. His coach, Doug Leigh, helped him out of the arena and he went to a hospital immediately after the medals ceremony.

Stojko followed the ill-starred path of Canadian predecessors Brian Orser and Kurt Browning. Each came to the Olympics as a favorite and as the reigning world champion and came up short in pursuit of gold. Canada never has won the men’s competition.

Eldredge had nothing to smile about, either. His long quest for an Olympic medal ended distressingly as he popped one triple axel, fell on an improvised one near the end of the program and never did a triple-triple combination.

``I knew more than likely it was not an Olympic medal performance,″ he said. ``It is something I really wanted, but everybody doesn’t get everything they want.″

He still had a chance to get the bronze until Candeloro’s magnificent ``D’Artagnan,″ one of the best choreographed and most dashing and slashing performances in Olympic history.

And tonight, the quad made a difference. Stojko never attempted it, even though he is the master of the four-revolution jump. Eldredge, never comfortable with it, also didn’t bother. Candeloro doesn’t do one, either. Alexei Yagudin of Russia fell on his.

That shortened the quad squad to Guo Zhengxin of China, who didn’t do one, but two. Although the second had a questionable landing, the first _ in combination _ was superb.

Kulik took up that challenge, as well. His first jump was a gigantic quadruple toe loop that set the stage for the rest of his golden performance.

In all, Kulik landed eight triples and the quad, and they all looked easy. He had certified his position as a challenger by beating Stojko and Eldredge at the Champions Series final, then ensured his place in history by clearly outskating them here.

Stojko limped to the medals podium and hugged Kulik. Candeloro then made several swashbuckling hand moves to the crowd before joining them.

Eldredge had his chance, but didn’t skate anything like a five-time U.S. champion and former world winner.

When he was done, Eldredge clearly was sweating more than normal. He shook his head no several times, closed his eyes and grimaced before skating off. He was muttering to himself as the marks came up, knowing that unless Candeloro and Stojko made mistakes, his six-year quest for an Olympic medal was fruitlessly over.

Eldredge was 10th at the 1992 Winter Games after a back injury sidelined him for nationals and he was out of shape at the Olympics. He failed to make the 1994 team after he was stricken by the flu at the trials, then showed his resolve by reviving his career, winning three more U.S. championships.

But he didn’t have it tonight.

Michael Weiss of Fairfax, Va., moved up from 11th to seventh with a strong routine featuring five triple jumps. He fell on his quad lutz, but was strong in all other elements.

``This was a big defining moment for me,″ Weiss said. ″ After not doing a spectacular short program the other night, it was important for me to not only show myself, but prove to the judges I am a serious contender.″

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