Saturday, February 14, 1998
Stojko didn't lose gold, he won silver
He'd already talked for about 10 minutes on the night when Elvis left the building and went directly to the hospital without collecting his Olympic gold medal.
He was talking of the courage and bravery involved in Elvis Stojko winning his bronze medal and . . .
It was silver.
"What do you mean, silver,'' he said. "It was bronze.''
No, it wasn't.
He was third in the long program. But he was second in the Olympics.
Leigh stood there, in the middle of the bullpen of the figure skating media sub centre, his mind working out the math of it all.
"I didn't know.''
He saw Stojko grab his right leg at the end of his program. Along with choreographer Uschi Keszler, he helped him to the Kiss & Cry area to sit and see his marks. He watched him, wearing running shoes, leave to get his medal on the podium where gold medal winner Ili Kulik of Russia and the real bronze medal winner, Phillippe Candeloro of France, skated out to accept theirs. But he didn't watch it. He went to talk to the team doctor.
"Silver,'' he laughed. "Now I've got four of them.''
Elvis Stojko has now twice gone to the Olympics and won silver. And before him, Leigh coached Brian Orser who also won two Olympic silvers.
The difference will be that Orser turned pro after his second silver. No way will Elvis Stojko be walking away now, predicts his coach. Not after what happened here. No way. No chance.
The three-time world champion will be in Minneapolis at Worlds in six weeks to try match Kurt Browning's four world championships. And he'll stay back after that. Leigh wouldn't project so far as Salt Lake City four years from now. "We'll be there. That's six weeks. That's two more weeks than we had after Canadians,'' he said of the Hamilton event where Stojko apparently pulled his groin which came back to haunt him here and left him with little or no chance to beat Russia's Ilia Kulik out of the gold.
"If he has to be off two or three weeks . . . it doesn't matter. I don't have to teach this guy the guad or the triple Axel.''
While Phillippe Candeloro, the guy who did win the bronze, can't wait to turn pro, Leigh knows his skater.
"He can turn pro anytime. Elvis loves competition. That's what he is all about. That's how he was able, despite his injury, to make a night like tonight a competition.
"The challenges for Elvis are here more than there.''
Stojko, because of the groin injury which apparently he picked up at Canadians in Hamilton a month ago and made worse at practice before the Olympics, didn't fall down but he didn't win his five ring crown.
And why does it always work this way?
Why can't Canada ever win men's figure skating gold at the Olympic Winter Games?
Elvis Stojko gave one of the most gutsy, heroic performances you are ever going to see in this sport. But it was silver. Again.
Stojko skated with a groin injury he apparently incurred in the short program. "If there is a medal for bravery and courage, he should have that medal of honor,'' said Leigh.
His buddy and clubmate, Steven Cousins of England, put it another way.
"He epitomized the Olympic champion. He won his battle just by skating tonight.''
Canada gets giddy with every medal we win. And Saturday in Japan was the day of the motherlode. Catriona LeMay Doan. Gold. Susan Auch. Silver. Sandra Schmirler and Mike Harris through to the gold medal games in curling. Pierre Lueders .04 seconds behind the leader in bobsled going into the final two runs . . .
But those are "other'' medals. There are only two medals at these Olympics which Canada covets. The hockey gold which we haven't won since 1952. And the figure skating men's gold which we have never - unbelievably, in the entire history of the Olympics despite the Don Jacksons, Toller Cranstons, Brian Orsers and Kurt Brownings - won even once.
Orser was one rotation short in Calgary going against Brian Boitano in '88. He'd stepped out of a triple flip and did a double Axel at the end instead of a triple. If he'd made it a triple, most believe he would have won the legendary Battle of the Brians.
And Stojko himself, four years ago in Lillehammer, popped the first triple Axel in his program and that was the difference between gold and silver. Stojko skated last and, for all purposes, was looking at either gold or silver.
He made no real mistakes, other than being a bit off balance on is triple loop. But instead of a quad toe combination, he did a Triple toe. And that wasn't going to get it done.
The gold was gone. Again.
Elvis Stojko came here only for gold. But the way it worked out, he didn't lose gold. He won silver.
Doug Silver Leigh knows that better than anybody.