ALSO ON SLAM!
Saturday, March 25, 2000
Stojko ready to try for fourth world title
"It's really, really nice," Stojko said after practice Saturday. "They threw it up at the last minute and I was wondering how it was going to be but it's quite nice.
"I like the atmosphere in there."
The facility is an exhibition hall. Appliances were on display during a home show in the same building last week. Ice has been laid down and temporary seating erected.
Outside, the thermometer hit 20 C under a clear blue sky, and a few blocks away rollerbladers in shorts cruised along wide seashore promenades lined with palm trees. It's a strange setting for a winter sport.
Competition begins Monday with men's qualifying. There are 47 entrants from 37 countries. Fifteen from each of two groups will advance to perform their short programs Tuesday. Stojko, the three-time world champion from Richmond Hill, Ont., and Ben Ferreira of Edmonton, making his worlds debut, will represent Canada.
"You deal with what you've got," Stojko said of the format introduced at last year's worlds in Helsinki, where he finished fourth, that sees qualifying results figure in as 20 per cent of the event's total mark. "I didn't like it much last year.
"I kind of liked the old system: you qualify and then the competition starts with the short program."
He landed a quadruple Lutz, which has never been seen in competition, at his first practice after arriving Thursday. He was reeling off triple Axels on Friday. He was in an upbeat mood despite travel problems.
Stojko flew out of New York on his 28th birthday Wednesday. One hour off the ground, the Delta pilot turned around because the takeoff gear would not retract into the fuselage. Full of fuel, the plane was too heavy to land. Some fuel was dumped over Atlanta and the plane circled New York for another hour to burn off the rest. Then, ready to land, the pilot was ordered to circle again because a medical emergency on another plane gave it priority. Finally, Stojko's plane landed and passengers were put on another aircraft.
"I slept the whole time," said a grinning Stojko. "I'd wake up and it was like, 'Oh, we're still circling.' I thought it was a half hour. Three and a half hours later . . . "
This is the 10th world meet for Canada's champion.
"It's always tough," he said of the latest challenge. "It's just a matter of putting it down on the day.
"You make sure you pace yourself and make sure you're ready."
It's unlikely he'll try the Lutz quad in competition this week.
"There's a spot for it in the program but I'm going to focus on the other stuff," he said.
Russians Alexei Yagudin and Evgeny Plushenko are back to defend the 1-2 spots, trying to outdo one another with triple-triple-double jump combinations that Stojko won't include in his repertoire.
"I don't think it's a real necessity at this point," he said of the latest techno innovation in the sport. "If you miss it, it puts a damper on the program. It's risky. It's something I've played around with at home. I don't think it'll be the tell-tale difference."
He's convinced his chances of winning now are just as good as when he took home gold from Japan in 1994, England in 1995 and Switzerland in 1997.
"If I skate as well as I can skate, I'm better than I was before -- on every level," he said.
Still, he knows there are doubters. They've grown in numbers, too, since the serious groin-abdominal injuries of 1998.
"They count you out when you don't quite do it," he said. "Every year I was doing it and doing it and doing it. All of a sudden, when I have a little bit of trouble, they count you out -- 'Oh, he won't be back, that's the end.'
"I've been proving this year that you can come back. It's just a matter of mental strength and knowing what your body can handle. The injury that I went through could have been career-ending. But I got through it."
Coach-choreographer Uschi Keszler: "If there is one person I've met in life who I would never count out, it is Elvis Stojko."
Doug Leigh, Stojko's former coach who has medal contender Takeshi Honda of Japan ready to go, rejects the notion that a Yagudin-Plushenko battle for gold is a fait accompli.
"I don't think it's cut and dried," said Leigh. "I don't think anybody has their name on the tag until the event is over.
"There are guys with incredible ability out there. Yagudin, Plushenko, Elvis, Takeshi, the Americans, and there are a couple of young Chinese guys who are moving up quickly . . . men's skating today is simply fantastic. These guys can do everything. It's a matter of who delivers.
"They have three programs to lay down in four days and we'll see what happens. But it's not cut and dried who's got (the gold). Nobody has skated yet. They've still got to do it."