San Jose Mercury News (CA)

January 21, 1996


JODY MEACHAM, Mercury News Staff Writer

Edition: Morning Final
Section: Sports
Page: 1D

Rudy Galindo did it.

He took his career into his own hands, the hometown crowd into his heart and skated a long program that left the judges no choice but to award him the U.S. Figure Skating Championship on Saturday.

He is the first Mexican-American to win it and, at 26, the oldest champion since 51-year-old Chris Christenson in 1926. Galindo is the first man to win national titles in pairs and singles since Ken Shelley in 1972. Galindo's pairs titles came with Kristi Yamaguchi, in 1989 and 1990.

Even James Disbrow of Minneapolis, one of the two judges who ranked him second in the long program, couldn't help but grant the crowd's demand for a perfect 6.0 for the artistic mark, one of two 6.0s Galindo earned.

Baryshnikov would have been proud of this ''Swan Lake.''

It had eight triple jumps, two more than any other man in the competition could land. It had two triple-triple combinations, including a triple Axel-triple toe loop to open. All were performed without a discernible flaw.

Every jump seemed to add to his confidence. With two triples to go, he was already waving to the crowd. Going into his last spin, he was cheering himself.

And when it was over, Galindo's weren't the only tears that flowed at San Jose Arena. Ten thousand, eight hundred sixty-nine screaming fans saw it in person, but it was the kind of breakthrough performance in this sport that in years to come, those who said they were there will number in the hundreds of thousands.

''I think it's probably the greatest upset that I've seen since I've been around,'' said Morry Stillwell, president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association and a 30-year veteran judge and official in the sport.

There could have been no more unlikely a champion than Galindo, who four months ago was helping his coach/sister Laura teach young skaters lessons at the Ice Centre of San Jose during more than a half-year out of competition. His reputation in the sport as a solo skater never approached Yamaguchi's.

As much as reputation and toeing the line count in this sport, Galindo generated through the years a maximum of enmity from those in the USFSA whose support he supposedly needed.

He blamed judges for bad marks. He wore the ''wrong'' costumes. He grew a beard. He flaunted his effeminacy.
He also fell a lot.

''I've had skaters say to me, 'Well you just don't like me,' '' Stillwell said. ''I'd say, 'Yeah, I like you, but you fell down three times.' So I don't think there's anything there. As to the gay issue, you know that. He never talked to me on the issue. I don't know whether to say it's an issue that's ignored. I'm sure it's probably discussed, but it's, again, not something that judges and officials have much interest in. The pressure that's on the judge in competition is to get it right.''

(Galindo has never publicly acknowledged being gay, but he discusses his homosexuality in a recently published book, ''Inside Edge,'' by Christine Brennan of the Washington Post.)

Galindo's best previous finish at the nationals was a fifth in 1993, and his only international title was at the 1994 Vienna Cup, a low-level event with a poor field.

But the planets began lining up for Galindo days ago.

With practice sessions for this year's nationals at the same rink where the Galindos teach, he missed nary a jump all week. Rehearsing his long program in a solid black outfit much like the one in which he competed, he would toss his gloves over the boards to spectators before beginning the combination spin in the middle of his program.

He nailed his short program Thursday night, his first clean short in national competition since he began his career as a singles skater in 1992. It placed him third entering the final, and his highest hope was that he could hold onto that spot and the last berth on the world-championships team.

Victory, though, was not in anyone's mind.

Todd Eldredge and Scott Davis were ranked 1-2 above Galindo going into the long program. Eldredge has three national titles, two world-championship medals and one trip to the Olympics. Davis has two U.S. championships and competed in the Lillehammer Games.

Davis crumpled, finishing fifth in the long program after landing just two triple jumps. Eldredge, skating for the first time in competition to music from the ''First Knight'' movie soundtrack, did five triples but not a single triple-triple combination. It was good enough for second place and two first-place rankings.

Third went to Dan Hollander, fourth in the short program, who hit seven triple jumps, including a triple-triple.

''It still feels like a dream,'' Galindo said shortly after his skate. ''Yesterday, I just had this feeling, like I was psychic or something, that I was going to do a clean long. For the past week, I could visualize the crowd standing and me getting off the ice.

''I can't describe this moment right now, it means so much to me.''

It was sweeter, he said, than his championships in pairs.

''I did it on my own.''

No one could dispute that.

Men's champion Rudy Galindo clearly gained confidence as his program went along.

One longtime judge said Rudy Galindo's win was the greatest upset she'd ever been around.

Copyright (c) 1996 San Jose Mercury News

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