San Jose Mercury News (CA)

March 22, 1996


ANN KILLION, Mercury News Staff Writer

Edition: Morning Final
Section: Front
Page: 1A 
Dateline: EDMONTON, Alberta 

There are a lot of great skaters out there on God's earth - hundreds, maybe thousands.

And Rudy Galindo is better than all but two. Third best in the world! In the world!

Seven months ago he was sitting in his trailer home in San Jose, watching soap operas, feeling sorry for himself and riding his bike to and from the ice rink.

But then deliberately, carefully, building atop pillars of belief only he and his sister Laura could see, he structured a champion.

Thursday, the champion Galindo built from the bottom up stood strong. Battered by talent from all corners of the world, whipped by the winds of pressure, shaken by nerves, haunted by the ghosts from the past, Galindo didn't wobble once.

''I thought I wouldn't be nervous,'' Galindo said. ''But when I walked down the hallway from my hotel room, I was the most nervous I've ever been. I was shaking and sweating.

Being in the last warm-up was overwhelming. I didn't think I'd be there. Everyone is so good.''

Everyone was so good. The talent level of this competition was mind-blowing. Canada's Elvis Stojko landed a perfect quadruple jump early in the evening. The top three men all skated flawlessly. The competition was decided by splitting hairs, on how many combination jumps were performed.

And Galindo didn't wobble.

He held his own against the world.

He skated first in the final group. The electricity that charged San Jose Arena in January was missing, but the crowd was supportive. Signs cheering ''Rudy!'' hung from the Coliseum as well as - maybe for the first time ever at a world championships - a couple of rainbow flags, symbols of gay pride.

An ABC camera was inches from Galindo's face as he waited to take the ice. He hid his nerves well, skating to center stage with confidence, waiting for the strains of Tchaikovsky's ''Swan Lake'' to begin.

''There were a lot of things going through my mind,'' he said. ''I skated well at nationals, and I wanted to prove I could be consistent in my performances.''

He was. He hit his first two triple/triple combination jumps perfectly. With the difficult moments behind him and his confidence booming, he nailed four more triples. At the end of four flawless minutes, the crowd rose to its feet to salute him.

''Three for three on standing o's here,'' he said with amazement later.

His marks could have been higher. His technical marks ranged between 5.6 and 5.8 - about right. But his artistic mark could have been much higher. Still, Galindo was in first place when he finished.

And then he waited.

Olympic gold medalist Alexi Urmanov fell down, but Todd Eldredge skated the program of his never-ending career.

''Really, I have to thank Rudy for beating me at nationals,'' Eldredge said.

And then the young Russian wonder, Ilia Kulik, hit a few slam dunks on his triple jumps and became an immediate favorite for the 1998 Olympics.

''It was great, tough - it was total quality out there,'' said Stojko's coach, Doug Leigh.

And when it was all over, Galindo was third best in the world.

As the anthem played, the bronze medal resting on his chest, Galindo's eyes brimmed with tears. ''I was standing on the podium and wishing my Dad and brother were there to witness it,'' he said. ''I'm a very emotional person.''

It has been an emotional journey for Galindo, one filled with illness and death and disappointment. The only person constantly by his side has been Laura, and when he stepped away from the microphones Thursday night he leaned over and placed the bronze medal around his sister's neck. And then took off his skates and put on the Nikes he bought with some of his newfound money.

More money will be coming in for the kid who was riding a bike out of necessity a few weeks ago. Galindo earned $20,000 for finishing third. A book deal has been finalized; a movie deal is in the works.

He will head on Sunday not home to San Jose but to Boston for a Pro-Am challenge that will also pay good money. Then it's right out on a tour of skating champions that will earn him approximately $375,000.

Galindo won't be back in San Jose until mid-July. When he left town last week, he had to pack for a whole new life. A life he built from the bottom up.

He never expected to be here. He thought he'd spend this week in March at home watching the best skaters in the world on TV. He didn't dare dream he'd be one of them.

But he is.

''It's been hard,'' he said. ''But now it's a happy ending. I'm going to go on with my life and train hard.''

Rudy is wrong. This isn't an ending. It's a beginning.


Rudy Galindo continued to defy all odds when, on the heels of his victory in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, he finished third at the World Championships. ''I wanted to prove I could be consistent in my performances,'' Galindo said.

Copyright (c) 1996 San Jose Mercury News

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