When all was said, done and skated late Saturday night at the White Ring arena, this much was certain about the men's Olympic figure skating competition:
- Todd's quad never materialized and neither did an all-but-guaranteed American medal.- The judges preferred French musketeers over Hungarian motorcycles.
- Not only has Elvis left the building in pain, he is no longer the king.
And he who wears the current crown - or rather, the Olympic gold medal - is Russia's Ilia Kulik, who not only finished first after Thursday's short program but set the standard early in the fourth and final group of Saturday night's free program.
That gold standard was never met by the final five skaters: the United States' Todd Eldredge, Russia's Alexi Yagudin, Great Britain's Steven Cousins, France's Philippe Candeloro and Canada's Elvis Stojko.
Skating to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," Yagudin performed smoothly and solidly through all his maneuvers, with his technical merit marks nearly all 5.8s and 5.9s and all but one of his scores for artistic interpretation being 5.9s.
Making his return to Olympic competition after a six-year absence, five-time national champion Eldredge appeared a little shaky through his routine and stumbled off his final jump with 17 seconds left in his 4 1/2-minute program. His routine remained conservative - he didn't attempt a quadruple jump, which no skater has ever hit in Olympic competition.
His scores averaged out to be about one-tenth lower than Kulik's marks, so Eldredge knew that his golden dreams would not come true - and that any hopes of a medal would be determined by how the final four competitors performed.
Yagudin did try the quadruple and crumbled, one of two falls during his free program, dropping him out of medal contention. And Cousins took an icy seat as well at one point and never mounted a challenge to Kulik and Eldredge.
Then came the most crowd-pleasing performance of the night, with Candeloro looking all the part of a French musketeer, with his locks, facial hair and bravado matching his period costume. As he waited for his gallant music to start, Candeloro was seen licking his lips before launching into his swash-buckling, sword-swinging and whip-cracking routine that had women swooning and the crowd cheering. Other than a couple of foot faults late in the program, Candeloro skated crisply.
What was left to be seen was the reaction of the judges. In the previous ice dancing competition, one couple was docked for having vocals in their music selection. And earlier in Saturday's event, Hungarian Harley-wannabe Szabolcs Vidral was penalized considerably in his interpretative scores for a routine skated to lively motorcycle music, with its accompanying ear-shattering motor revs and tire skids.
The crowd loved Candeloro, and the nine judges pretty much liked him as well. While his technical scores ranged from 5.5 to 5.8, his interpretation marks were mostly 5.8s and 5.9s - including a perfect 6.0 from France, of course. It moved the Frenchman between Kulik and Eldredge in the top three with only Stojko to skate.
"It was a difficult program today, but I skated good," said Candeloro. "When I was tired inside the program, I said, `OK, think about the public, don't think about your legs.' "
Stojko, the compact 1997 world champion, seemed intense and determined in his routine, but something was visibly wrong. he had reaggravated a groin muscle pull he suffered four weeks ago in the Canadian National Championships, and the three-time world champ was not quite his normal self for the Olympics.
He grimaced upon completion of his program and eventually had to be carried away from the "kiss-and-cry" booth where he watched his scores, which were only good by Elvis standards - good enough to place him second but not great enough to pass Kulik for the gold. Nagano officials reported that Stojko left for a nearby hospital immediately after the medal ceremony.
Kulik became the first men's singles competitor to win the gold in his Olympic debut in 40 years. And Eldredge remained the only U.S. men's skater to claim five national championships but fail to win an Olympic medal.
"I'm not real happy with the way I skated, obviously," he said. "But I'm sure in the future there will be better days. . . . I just have to hold my head up high. It's been six years since we've been here, and we finally got here. I would have rather had a better performance, but it's just good to be here."