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    Friday, February 13, 1998

    It's a fight to the finish

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

      Elvis Stojko heads into tomorrow's free-skate program armed, dangerous and ready for a fight.
     The figure skater is armed with six perfect scores of 6.0 on his resume from the Canadian championships last month in Hamilton.
      He is dangerous in that the three-time world champion has proved time and again -- including his amazing gold-medal comeback from fourth place after the short program at last year's worlds -- that he is a pressure performer.
     And he's ready for a fight. Both Ilia Kulik of Russia, who sits in first place after yesterday's short program, and American Todd Eldredge, who sits third, also have proved to be big-time performers.
     Kulik, 20, defeated Stojko at the recent Champions Series final in Munich, and Eldredge, 26, is the 1996 world champion.
     "Whoever deserves it is going to win," Stojko said after his program yesterday. "I don't think it's a position where it's Ilia's to lose."
     Sitting in second heading into the most important skate of his life,
     Stojko essentially has to nail all his technical tricks -- particularly his quadruple toe-triple toe jump combination and his many other triples -- if he expects to beat the young Russian star.
     That's because, despite his high marks in Hamilton, international judges rarely have given the Canadian the benefit of the doubt when it comes to presentation scores.
     If Stojko, 25, does manage to pull off a gold-medal performance tomorrow at the gorgeous White Ring Arena, he'll become the first Canadian to win the men's singles title at an Olympic Games.
     Other than the judges, the one negative he'll have to overcome is a touch of the flu, which has plagued him all week -- although he'll never admit as much.
     But the Richmond Hill skater does have ample support from areas other than just his Canadian fans.
     "For me, Elvis should win the Olympics," said French star Philippe Candeloro, who sits in fifth-place. "It's logical."
     Like Stojko, Candeloro has never been a favorite of the judges because of his masculine style.
     Asked if he thought the artsy Kulik had a shot, the outspoken Frenchman said: "It depends if he changes his costume or not."