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  • Tuesday, March 23, 1999

    Stojko's chances of fourth title are slim

    By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press
     HELSINKI (CP) -- The lights went out in the interview room as reporters scrummed Elvis Stojko, and the lights might also have gone out on his longshot attempt to win a fourth world figure skating title.
     "I'm here, I'm here still," Canada's champion said as he sat surrounded in the dark.
     Yes, the lights came back on, and Stojko still is in contention after winding up third in the standings behind Evgeny Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin after the short program on Tuesday night.
     To win gold under the new scoring system that carried points forward from a qualifying round, Stojko and another skater both would have to outskate the Russian leaders in the free-skating final Thursday.
     It's not in his nature to concede though.
     "In the top three, you're always in the hunt," he said. "I'm just thanking I guess God being able to get me through the season and being healthy enough to be able to get the (short) program I wanted down as best I could."
     He's only been up to 100 per cent capacity in the last 10 days. It took 14 months to recover from groin and abdomen injuries suffered during the 1997-1998 season.
     "This season has been the toughest I've ever encountered -- by tenfold," he said.
     Yet, he should at least make it onto the podium.
     "I'm not focusing on the win," he said. "I'm not focusing on the placement.
     "Once you get caught up in all of that you're not focusing really on what it's all about. I just want to skate well. If I skate well, I'm happy."
     At 27, he's the oldest man in the event. Plushenko is 16, Yagudin 18.
     Stojko raised the bar in this sport earlier in the decade. Now the teens are smashing him over the head with it.
     Still, he was the only skater in the final flight to land a four-revolution jump Tuesday. He didn't get official credit for a quad because he two-footed the landing. The others didn't even try.
     "I've set out some very big expectations on myself -- to be able to come back, proving to myself that my leg will heal 100 per cent while I compete," Stojko said. "That was a choice I made.
     "I wanted to be ready for this competition and in contention. That's what I wanted to do.
     "You have to go above and beyond. You have to go the extra five miles. You have to take the time to rest and take the treatment and focus and that's why it's been tough. I've taken hits at Skate America and Skate Canada. Nationals, pulling it out. Four Continents, taking a few hits. In practice taking hits.
     "It's a situation where you're being bombarded with things that don't go your way. You just keep pushing along and never give up because a lot of times things go your way and it flows and it's easy. When times are tough, that's when you have to dig down deep and you learn a lot about yourself."
     And here he is, written off by many, but going for gold again.
     "It's never what anybody else says," Stojko replied when asked what he thought of his doubters. "It's how I feel.
     "A human being, an athlete, can switch it around like that. I have the choice. I have the power to be able to turn it around when I want to and to push forward.
     "I was watching tennis today and I was watching Steffi Graf and the commentator said, 'I don't know if she'll ever get back in form again.' I laughed.
     "She'd just won a match. She was down, but she came out and just annihilated the opposition. And they still doubt the person. It's all in the mind. An athlete can change it if he digs deep enough. A champion is not someone who backs down. It's someone who pushes forward. It's not always the No. 1 place that matters."
     It's the effort given.
     In the last minute of his short program, knowing he needed a superhuman effort to impress the judges enough to stay in contention, Stojko put on an amazing display of athletic power. Witnessing the rapid footwork and stunning spins, the judges had no option but to give him a chance Thursday to skate for a medal.
     It might not be gold, but he'll always be a champion.
     Emanuel Sandhu would like to be one, too. Maybe some day. Canada's No. 2 entry was 20th after the short program.
     Earlier Tuesday, Canadian champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, who have won bronze ice dance medals three years in a row, tied for second place in the two compulsories.
     Defending champions Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov of Russia were first, and Bourne and Kraatz shared second with Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France. Chantal Lefebvre and Michel Brunet, Canada's No. 2 dance entry, were 15th among 32 couples.
     The schedule today includes women's qualifying and the pairs free-skating final. Canadian champions Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz are in fourth place.

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