San Jose Mercury News (CA)

March 20, 1996



Edition: Morning Final
Section: Sports
Page: 1D 
Dateline: EDMONTON, Alberta

FATE WASN'T finished with Rudy Galindo in January. Winning the national championship wasn't simply about a young man triumphing over adversity in front of a hometown crowd.

It was about closing a circle, making a peace. Reclaiming a talent that was lost.

So, it seems natural that fate has guided Galindo back to this bitter Alberta prairie where he spent some of his most bleak moments. At 26, he's getting a chance to chase all his demons.

His sister says this is the year he became a whole person. This is the year he has become a man. But six years ago, Galindo was very much a boy, when he sat in his rent-by-the-week room in Edmonton, and said: ''I'm lost here. I'm out of place.''

He was depressed and lonely. He was an outsider. He was hanging on for dear life to the best thing he had - his skating career. The only thing he loved in this harsh winter city was the Mindbender triple-loop roller coaster inside the West Edmonton Mall. That his form of amusement was a fitting parable for his erratic life was an irony lost on him at the time. However, the irony of returning to Edmonton as conquering hero doesn't escape Galindo now.

This week, Edmonton has adopted Galindo as one of its own. The tenuous lineage is based on the handful of weeks he spent in this city during the fall of 1989 and winter of 1990, training with pairs partner Kristi Yamaguchi at the Royal Glenora skating club. When he qualified for the world championships Sunday with another amazingly graceful performance, he brought the crowd to its feet.

''A standing ovation is definitely better than being depressed, living alone at Tower on the Park,'' Galindo said afterward, recalling his small rented room.

Edmonton may claim Galindo, but he isn't reciprocating. His memories of his time here are more of a penance served than an exciting adventure.

''I remember times Christy Kjarsgaard forgot to pick me up and I had to walk down the hill from the Tower on the Park to the Royal Glenora in snow up to my knees,'' he said this week.

Yamaguchi moved to Edmonton the day after she graduated from high school in 1989 in order to train with her coach, Christy Kjarsgaard Ness. In December 1989, the pair's coach, Jim Hulick, died. Galindo traveled back and forth between Edmonton and the Bay Area to train. Practices were held without a supervising coach. Rumors of the pair's demise raged throughout the skating world.

''I feel misplaced,'' Galindo said in 1990. ''I'm not secure. There's nobody to look after us.''

Yamaguchi didn't feel misplaced. She lived comfortably with Ness. Like a college freshman, she was blossoming, tasting independence. The Royal Glenora was a skating mecca, and the young athletes formed a lively social group, busy with dating and parties. The leader was Kurt Browning, a skater lauded in Canada for his macho skating and prowess with women.

Galindo, who is gay, felt ostracized by the social group, uncomfortable in the strange city. Yamaguchi was evolving without him. He complained to her frequently and made it clear he wished he was home.

''Everybody had somebody,'' he said this week. ''They had their family here or boyfriends, girlfriends. Kristi lived with her coach. I was always alone. My family was back in California, and that was the first time I'd ever been away. . . . It was just being alone in that apartment all day that was tough.''

The pair fought through the adversity and won another national title. But by the time they got to the world championships in Halifax, it was clear where Yamaguchi's future was pointed.

Yamaguchi is currently on tour with Stars on Ice and is difficult to track down. But word among her peers is that in all the glorification of Galindo, Yamaguchi has somehow been perceived as the villain. Such a perception is crazy. If any newly converted Galindo fans are inclined to blame Yamaguchi for their hero's troubles, don't do it.

Yamaguchi couldn't have physically competed in both pairs and singles at the elite level - the pressure and logistics are overwhelming. Yamaguchi and Galindo didn't have the size difference to break into the top echelon of pairs internationally. In hindsight, Yamaguchi - who won the Olympic gold medal in 1992 - made the best decision.

She called Galindo to congratulate him after he won in January. They discussed how strange sudden fame can be. She told the Chicago Tribune last month how thrilled she was for her former partner.

''It's fabulous,'' she said. ''Rudy has waited and paid his dues. He's back on track.''

The graceful skater once was lost, but now he's found. Back in Edmonton.

Funny thing, fate.

Rudy Galindo is besieged by autograph seekers at the World Figure Skating Championships in Edmonton, Alberta.

Rudy Galindo gets some encouragement from his sister, Laura, and coach John Brancato.

Copyright (c) 1996 San Jose Mercury News

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