Wednesday, February 11, 1998
Stojko stoic to the end
"What's that all about?" the personable Briton asked. "How could they not have picked him?
"Talk about personifying what sportsmanship and Olympic idealism is all about. I mean, he's it. Isn't he?"
Well, in men's singles figure skating, Stojko has been it for most of the 1990s.
Forget about spiritualism, mysticism, karma ... all that stuff is well and good and has a spot in Stojko's heart. But whether it's his destiny to bring home Canada's first gold medal in men's singles Olympic skating simply depends on whether the three-time world champion lands all the required elements in his short program tomorrow (most importantly a double Axel and triple-double jump combination) and whether all his tricks -- including the quadruple toe-double toe jump combination -- are in place for Saturday's free skate.
All things being equal, it's painfully obvious that Stojko, 25, never will garner any favors from the judges for presentation or artistic merit.
It's all about conformity and Stojko is not a conformist. Martial arts, jet skis and snowmobiles are his things. Skating judges generally like skaters who cook, wear shirts with frills and skate to classical music.
"It's very difficult being different (in this sport)," Stojko said. "But if you keep plugging along like I have, people learn to accept and understand your point of view."
Spectators, perhaps. Judges, well that's another story, although he did earn two perfect scores for presentation last month at the nationals, from Canadian judges.
Stojko generally has skated to martial arts-inspired soundtracks. The perception by Stojko bashers is that he has lacked a sense of artistry. Never mind that many internationally ranked skaters seek out Stojko for advice on music.
Still, perception and reality often converge. Facing that, Stojko has spent the past decade arming himself to the teeth, becoming the first man to land a quadruple in combination with another jump, and the first to land a quad-triple combo. Now he's working on a quad Salchow -- which he may unveil at Nagano in a crunch. His footwork is outstanding, his spins impeccable. His technical marks are almost always high. His presentation scores are almost always disappointing.
That's what Stojko's been swimming against ever since he joined the national team in 1990. At the Champions Series final in Munich, Stojko and Russian rival Ilia Kulik skated similar programs, with the flashy Kulik winning based on presentation.
And so, he heads into tomorrow's short program -- the biggest skate of his life -- already facing strike two. The good news is, this guy's a clutch hitter.
After being placed fourth in the short program at last year's worlds following an almost-flawless program, Stojko quietly swallowed his anger, came out two days later and blew away the field for his third world crown.
The positive spin on the Elvis Stojko story is, even if he loses the gold medal Saturday to Kulik or American Todd Eldredge or Alexei Yagudin of Russia, all deserving and excellent skaters with different styles, he will not lock himself in a room and spend the rest of his life raging against the machine.
"If I win, it's not going to change who I am," he said. "It's not going to make me a better person. All it's going to mean to me is that I accomplished my goal.
"If I skate well and I don't have a medal, I still will feel that I did achieve my goal."