San Jose Mercury News (CA)

January 21, 1996


Mark Purdy column

Edition: Morning Final
Section: Front
Page: 1A

CAN AN entire building have a lump in its throat? Saturday afternoon at San Jose Arena, it happened. The lump was a size triple extra large. And the air was full of emotions that don't have a name.

''I can't describe...,'' said Rudy Galindo when asked how it felt. ''I can't describe . . . ''

Forgive him his speechlessness. A kid grows up in East San Jose and ends up grabbing his hometown by the heart and doing something impossible. Are there any concise adjectives to fit that scenario? How could he have done it?

Rudy Galindo, the living, breathing quadruple jump of hard luck.

Rudy Galindo, whose skating career was thought to be finished five years ago when Kristi Yamaguchi dropped him as a pairs partner to pursue her solo Olympic medal.

Rudy Galindo, who has lost two coaches and a brother to AIDS - and his father to a stroke - in the past few years.

Rudy Galindo, who has been so broke that he sometimes has had to ride a bicycle from his mother's house trailer to practice at the Ice Centre of San Jose.

Rudy Galindo, who finished a dismal eighth last year in the national championships and was considered a non-factor entering this weekend's event - mostly because of his balletic skating style and a hip goatee with a spiky haircut that the judges were supposed to despise.

Rudy Galindo, national champion.

You try to figure out how that must have felt when he heard those last four words. To win his gold medal, Galindo beat out two other men with five U.S. titles between them - Scott Davis and Todd Eldredge.

Figure skating, with its sequined affectations and dense politics, can produce cynicism by the rinkful. But to see Galindo skate Saturday was not only to witness a human being free of gravity and worry, but also to witness the best athlete in the house.

The drama built slowly. Galindo was the last man to skate, which turned out to be an advantage. Maybe the judges really were inclined to downgrade Galindo because of his style, as he has implied in the past. But since he was the last man to skate, after every other person had stumbled or wobbled at least once, the judges could not deny him his rightful scores - if he didn't fall.

While waiting to perform, Galindo stayed beneath the arena, pacing and sitting, wearing his sister's Walkman stereo headphones and listening to loud alternative rock and roll on KOME-FM. That way, he could not hear the ovations, not know which other skaters had slipped or where he stood.

''When I took the ice, I didn't know anything that had happened,'' Galindo said.

Good plan, for when the headphones came off, Galindo's feet took off. He attempted eight triple jumps - two more than any other competitor - and touched down perfectly on all eight. Over and over. Leap, spin-spin-spin, land. Leap, spin-spin-spin, land. After each one, the applause inside the arena grew more immense, filling space to the ceiling.

According to U.S. Figure Skating officials, no man has previously won a national championship in his hometown. You can guess why. The pressure to perform with your friends and family sitting right there in rinkside seats can be worse than performing in front of a national television audience.

Yet Galindo was handling it fine - he even waved to a friend in the front row during his program - and the hometown palms were clapping like crazy. With 15 seconds left in Galindo's program, no one was sitting. There were 10,869 in the house, but the noise was as loud as a 49ers home game.

When his routine finally did end and the ovation soared even louder into the rafters, Galindo looked heavenward, made the sign of the cross, then glided over to await his scores, shouting his father's and brother's names as he left the ice.

The crowd had something else in mind. A chant began: ''Six! Six! Six!'' That's the figure-skating score for a perfect routine. It appears on the scoreboard about as often as Tonya Harding tapes her own Disney Channel special.

But the magic number flashed for Galindo. Two judges punched it. The arena lifted off to another decibel level. Galindo had won. The video screen on the scoreboard made it official a few seconds later.

Could anyone script a better finish? A kid grows up in East San Jose and becomes the first Mexican-American ever to win a national figure-skating title after every tragedy in the world visits his life, and while he has every right to gloat afterward, he does not.

''I'm still in shock,'' he said in his post-routine media conference, during which he refused to snap back at his critics, uttering only this: ''Hopefully, they all have faith in me now.''

With Saturday's victory, Galindo qualifies for the U.S. delegation to March's world championships. He also should receive thousands of dollars for appearing in ice shows. Basically, in five minutes, his bank account went from zero to solvent. ''Now, I guess I can pay for my training expenses,'' he said.

He wasn't joking. In football terms, Saturday was like Yerba Buena High School showing up at the Super Bowl and beating the Dallas Cowboys. Galindo's ''team'' was a thrifty local operation in every sense. His choreography was done by a local jazz-dance instructor, Sharlene Franke. And he was coached by his sister, Laura, who has no other world-class pupils and who spends most of her time teaching young kids at the Ice Centre, on 10th Street. Rudy earned pocket money by helping her.

''I had to put aside dollars for my costumes, for my choreographers and having my music professionally done,'' he said. ''And, of course, my sister is free.''

At that, Laura grinned.

''Not anymore,'' she said.

A kid grows up in East San Jose and brings his hometown to its feet, and he skates once more in this afternoon's exhibition of champions. Rudy Galindo won't have to ride a bicycle there today.

With near-perfect performances, Rudy Galindo and...
Michelle Kwan captured gold medals at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at San Jose Arena on Saturday.
As Galindo's routine unfolded, the crowd was drawn into the emotion of the moment. The fans jumped to their feet in the final seconds, then began chanting for perfect scores of six.
At left, skater Rudy Galindo regains his composure after completing his triumphant routine in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday at San Jose Arena.
Above, a beaming Galindo and his sister and coach, Laura, hold court at a post-event news conference.

Copyright (c) 1996 San Jose Mercury News

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