San Jose Mercury News (CA)

January 19, 1996


Ann Killion column

Edition: Morning Final
Section: Sports
Page: 1D

WHY, PEOPLE have been asking this week, does Rudy Galindo keep skating?

He answered the question Thursday night.

In a spectacular homecoming before a supportive crowd, Galindo, 26, skated the solo performance of his career. It was a special moment, reminiscent of the magic he created on the ice seven years ago when he and Kristi Yamaguchi stunned the figure skating world and won a gold medal in pairs at the Baltimore nationals. Thursday was another one of those rare confluences of artistry, skill and timing for Galindo.

The performance put him in third place, the best finish after the men's short program of his singles career, and in position to win the gold medal with his long program Saturday afternoon.

And, you could argue, Galindo should have been placed even higher.

After all, he landed the most difficult combination jump of the evening, a triple-Axel, triple toe. His performance was clean, his moves balletic, capturing the emotion of ''Canon in D'' by Johann Pachelbel. Scott Davis, who finished second, touched his hands down to the ice on one landing and performed a triple-Axel, double-toe combination. Todd Eldredge, who is in first place, also did the easier combination.

There's no way Galindo deserved being marked down to a 5.4 (out of a perfect 6.0) for the technical part of his program, as he was by two judges.

But Galindo wasn't having any part of a judging controversy.

''I'm happy with my marks,'' Galindo said. ''Todd and Scott are Olympic skaters and world-ranked.''

And who could blame him for toeing the safe line? Galindo has been dogged by tragedy and turmoil for most of his skating career.

The uproar over his remarks to be etched on the statue honoring local skaters across from San Jose Arena - Galindo asked that his original quote concerning being Mexican-American in an ''All-American'' sport be changed - was just a recent example of controversy.

There was the difficult breakup with Yamaguchi in 1990, after winning two national pairs championships. In the aftermath of the split, Galindo struggled with his feelings at seeing Yamaguchi's career soar while his stagnated. A new skating book, ''Inside Edge,'' reveals Galindo's concerns with perceptions of his sexuality, information he now describes as confidential. Galindo has been plagued by financial trials throughout his career. Living with his mother in a trailer park, he took eight months off last year to coach skating, to earn enough money to keep skating.

And then there are the funerals. His father died of a heart attack in 1993. Over the years, his older brother died of AIDS, and his first coach Jim Hulick and his second coach Richard Inglesi also passed away. Inglesi succumbed to AIDS a year ago, just a few weeks before the 1995 U.S. Figure Skating Nationals where Galindo finished eighth.

''There has always been something tragic going on,'' said Laura Galindo, Rudy's sister, coach and strongest supporter. ''This year he made up his mind that there wouldn't be an excuse.''

When Galindo got ill a few weeks ago, Laura told him to take some medication and ''get over it.''

And he did.

Brian Boitano has described Galindo as the hungriest skater in the competition. And Galindo's endurance over the years has proved his fighting spirit.

He took the ice after Davis, earning a loud round of applause.

''I was overwhelmed,'' Galindo said. ''I knew when I stepped on the ice, the crowd would be behind me.''

He hit the combination right away. He had been practicing it all week and knew if he landed the Axel solidly, he'd be able to pull off the triple toe.

When he finished his program, Galindo was greeted with a thunderous, standing ovation. Among those rising to their feet was Kristi's mother Carole Yamaguchi, a woman Rudy used to describe as a second mother.

Galindo covered his face with his hands, and jumped in delight.

''There have been a lot of high points in my life, and this is one of them,'' he said.

The emotion on his face was clear.

''I was thinking of all my friends and family that passed away,'' he said. ''I feel they're watching me. And before I skate, I always say, 'Please help me.' ''

Skating is full of controversies such as Thursday night. It's difficult to figure out why a certain judge marks a skater down. Galindo has a goatee and the judges are said to dislike facial hair on skaters. Galindo has been outspoken in the past, something that scares the politically uptight skating world. Galindo isn't one of the ''favorites,'' like Eldredge and Davis.

But Galindo wasn't worrying about the politics of his sport. He was, finally, capturing the moment.

Why, some ask, does he keep skating?

This is why.

''I've had a lot going on in my life, and that's one of the reasons why I get so emotional after I skate,'' he said. ''I've been through so much. Skating is a whole new world for me, a place not to think and dwell on the bad things that have happened to me. It's why I love skating.''

Copyright (c) 1996 San Jose Mercury News

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