Quad happened? Once again on Saturday, figure skating came up with an inspired moment of lunacy when it really counted, dissolving into reflexive replay madness during its U.S. Championships.
The fun started after Todd Eldredge had captured the men’s nationals for the fourth time in wobbly style, and nobody seemed to care a lick about anything except Michael Weiss’ quadruple toe jump - four full revolutions, without flopping on the ice.
His leap appeared to be the first successful quad by an American in a major competition, sort of like Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon, only more important. This unprecedented move propelled Weiss past several skaters into second place and into the world championships next month.
You can only imagine the excitement, and the back-biting that followed.
Eldredge bristled at all the attention shown Weiss, complaining that he had seen better quads by a bushel-ful of Canadians and Russians. Hours later, after an alleged tip from a referee, Nancy Bizzano, who should be assigned to the Whitewater investigation, and U.S. Skating Figure Association president Morry Stillwell went nosing around the ABC truck.
He watched Weiss’ jump at regular speed, and it looked like a quad. But after reviewing the leap in slo-mo, Stillwell announced we had not seen what we had seen.
Stillwell voided Weiss’s quad, for the sake of history.
“He clearly 2-footed on the exit,” said Stillwell, about the landing. “We can’t recognize that as a clear quad, as much as I’d like.
“I’ve been a judge for 25 years, and I couldn’t tell from where I was sitting. But I was at the (ABC) truck looking in slow motion. It was a wonderful maneuver. It was close. I was excited as anybody else. It can’t be a quad.”
By touching down with his right foot, along with the left, Weiss had shot his quad.
“It’s a quad,” insisted Weiss’ coach, Audrey Weisiger. “It’s just a flawed quad.”
But Stilwell’s pronouncement put a great damper on the quad party going on in Music City, although most honky-tonks remained open, carrying on bravely despite the bad news.
Everybody had been so happy in figure-skating land, and now there were only these familiar looks of puzzlement. The same looks we used to get when one of Tonya’s costume straps broke on cue and she was appealing for a restart.
“To be the first to do anything is very flattering,” said Weiss, before he was told he wasn’t the first to do anything important at all.
Weiss had previously landed this quad - which requires a toe-pick push - only in practice and low-level club competitions. Nice stuff, but nothing official. So he reached for the gold ring on Saturday, and nearly pulled it off.
“There was never any doubt whether to go for it or not,” Weiss said. “I was hitting it all week in practice.
“I told myself, ‘You just landed the quad. Now don’t blow the rest of the program,”’ said Weiss, whose routines were created by Brian Wright, a choreographer dying of AIDS.
Weiss should have told himself, “You just landed something that looked like a quad, but you dragged your right foot, stupid. Now, they’re going to go to the replay and you’re in big trouble.”
Weiss didn’t mess up much after that, earning higher marks on his free skating program than Eldredge from four of the nine judges. He fooled at least five of the judges with his pseudo-quad, because they all gave him 5.9s on technical marks.
The performance rescued him, with or without the big jump. Weiss had started the evening in fifth place, after suffering what he called “a brain fart” in the short program on Thursday, when he two-handed the ice on a triple axel landing.
“I prefer to call it a mental lapse,” said Weisiger.
Eldredge, Weiss and Dan Hollander will advance next month to the worlds. Weiss will not be booted off the team for his inadvertent deception, and Eldredge may now feel extra pressure to perform this jump of four revolutions.
“Whether Mike does it here or there, it doesn’t make me have to do it,” Eldredge insisted.
But Eldredge’s coach, Richard Callaghan, said a quad would soon be a necessity. “It’s an element you’ll need after 1998,” Callaghan said.
Eldredge, a slight and buoyant skater, was a heavy favorite in men’s singles coming into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. In order to lose his lead on Saturday before sympathetic judges, he would have had to badly botch his routine.
Instead, Eldredge, 24, was remarkably adequate, after doubling a couple of early attempted triples.
“I thought I was OK,” Eldredge said. “That’s not what I’d like to do at the worlds.” Reporters did not get around to asking Eldredge any questions for some time at the post-skate press conference. They were too busy buzzing around Weiss, interrogating him about the quad. Finally, Eldredge was asked if he had ever seen a better quad than the one landed by the 20-year-old Weiss.
“Alexei Urmanov and Elvis Stojko have done it with triples after it in combination,” Eldredge snapped. “Everybody has their days.”
Weiss had his two hours. Then, the mean man took away his quad.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.