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  • Wednesday, March 29, 2000

    The King is ... old

    Elvis is on the outside looking in at the invincible Alexei Yagudin

    By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

     NICE, France -- It's not that Elvis Stojko should have felt even older than his 28 years, although somehow he looked it.

     The quad used to be his nuclear weapon. It exploded in his face here last night.

     All of a sudden he was on the outside looking in at a quad squad that's a mod squad.

     Eight youngsters successfully performed the quad last night. Elvis wasn't one of them.

     But Elvis Stojko shouldn't feel old because he happened to fall on the big jump and finds himself fourth after the long program. It's just that he had to look at the young Russians and realize they're going in different directions and not necessarily at the same speed.

     Twenty-year-old Alexei Yagudin skated the lights out here last night and it was obvious to every eye.

     He was on one level. Everybody else was on another.

     Somebody asked American Michael Weiss about it at the press conference which didn't include Stojko.

     "Is Yagudin invincible when he skates like this?'' the question came from the floor.

     "He's untouchable!'' said Weiss.

     What we watched was something special.

     "When he's skating to his ability, he's in a league of his own,'' said coach Tatiana Tarasova of her skater who earned 5.9s across the board on the artistic side and five 5.8s and three 5.9s on the technical line.

     "And he's still on the road to somewhere. He's still moving,'' she said.

     ADMITTED THE OBVIOUS

     Yagudin admitted the obvious.

     "I had a wonderful program and I'm glad about what I did,'' he said. "It was hard to skate. This arena is not so good. I'm happy that I was able to produce in the program. After I landed the quad and the nice triple-Axel-triple-toe, I was happy but I was also a bit scared. I watched Michael Weiss and he missed the double Axel so I tried to be prepared.''

     He didn't mention Stojko.

     "I don't want to say anything about all the other great skaters, but not all of them can skate so the audience is standing before they stop skating,'' said his coach.

     She did mention Stojko.

     "Elvis is a great skater,'' she said. "He is a great athlete. There is no such thing as being of a certain age when you are great.''

     So what was that look on Stojko's face as he watched a TV monitor in the bowels of the Palais des Exhibitions?

     "That was good skating out there,'' he admitted of not only Yagudin, but 18-year-old Evgeni Plushenko, who have Russia 1-2 after the men's short program at Stojko's 10th World Figure Skating Championships. Weiss is third.

     Think of it this way: Stojko is here, at age 28, trying to match Kurt Browning and win his fourth world title.

     Yagudin is here, having turned 20 on March 18, and is four minutes and 30 seconds away from equalling Stojko's three world titles.

     The top three all landed quads and triple-Axel-triple-toe combinations.

     Stojko disputed that he looked uncomfortable on the approach and that he looked like he launched late.

     "I felt really solid all the way through," he insisted. "Right after takeoff, just right in the middle of the quad I started leaning. Once that happens you can't pull it out with your weight on one side. I was slightly off in the air.

     "It's frustrating,'' he said. "I shouldn't have missed it. That jump has been going well. It's an unfortunate miscue. It's disappointing.''

     Stojko stated the obvious.

     "You can't miss anything,'' he said of the young Russians. "It's going to be tough.''

     It's not like he doesn't have the ammunition.

     "I'm comfortable with what I have,'' he said of the tricks. "The quad is not a matter of age.''

     But both these kids have the whole package and you can make a case that Stojko has never had the whole package.

     And they're getting better.

     "I don't think age is a factor,'' Stojko contended. "It's where everyone is at this stage of his career.

     "I just miscued. I'm fourth. I've been there a lot of times. I just have to come back and throw it up in the air and see whatever lands.''

     IT'S NOT ABOUT ELVIS ANY MORE

     Maybe in the final Elvis Stojko can still be as good once as he ever was.

     But maybe this isn't even about Elvis Stojko any more.

     This kid Yagudin looked as good last night as just about anybody who ever skated has looked.



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