He has won the U.S. National figure skating title six times and one World championship. He finished second in the world three times and has won two world bronze medals. But Todd Eldredge of the United States has never won an Olympic medal. VOA's David Byrd has this look at Eldredge, who says the Salt Lake City Olympics will be his last attempt to capture the one prize that has eluded him.
Todd Eldredge began skating at five years old in his hometown of Chatham, Massachusetts, when his parents bought him a pair of hockey skates. But the young boy noticed some figure skaters in the center of the ice practicing their spins and jumps and liked it better than hockey. So he left hockey and began the sport that would take him to the Olympics and the world championships.
Eldredge left Chatham at 10 years old to train with skating coach Richard Callaghan. He would eventually win U.S. novice, national junior, and World junior titles. His early hockey experiences and the people of Chatham would also help further his quest for skating excellence.
Eldredge needed money to train in order to compete at the highest level, and his hometown helped him get the needed funds through the Todd Eldredge Youth Hockey Fund.
Their support and Todd's determination led to his first U.S. championship in 1990 and a fifth-place finish at the World championships the same year. He would win another U.S. title the next year and a bronze medal at the Worlds.
1992 was an Olympic year, but a bad back would force Eldredge out of contention in Albertville, France. Two years later, illness kept him off the U.S. Olympic team for the Lillehammer Winter Games. Eldredge earned his third U.S. championship in 1995 and won the World Championship in 1996. Two more U.S. championships would follow before the 1998 Olympics in Japan. However, in Nagano, Eldredge did not complete some jumps and fell during his long program. He finished fourth.
The American won the silver medal at the 1998 World Championships and then decided to spend the next two years competing in sanctioned professional and exhibition events that would not jeopardize his Olympic status.
During his two years off, quadruple jumps began to emerge in international competition. Russians Yevgeny Pluschenko and Alexei Yagudin soon became masters of the quad. The sport has progressed to the point where a quad jump is considered standard fare in men's skating, but Eldredge has not put one into his program. His 21-year-old teammate Timothy Goebel has a quad jump in his 2002 program, but Eldredge won the U.S. championship without one. He says he does not know if the jump will be in his Olympic program.
"I have to do what I normally do. I do not watch them [the competition] and say 'they have that and I have to do it too.' I do what my strengths are and base my program around that," Eldridge says. "Obviously you have to throw in all the triple jumps and the combinations and the quads and stuff. So it is a case of going out there and doing what you feel you can produce."
Like most Americans, Todd Eldredge was shocked by the September 11 terrorist attacks. The skater was in New York City when two hijacked airliners struck the World Trade Center towers. For his Olympic skating long program, Eldredge has chosen music from the series Band of Brothers about a U.S. Army unit involved in savage fighting in World War II. Eldredge says that he wanted to show solidarity with those who are fighting terrorism.
"You know, I think especially that with all the things going on in the world right now," he says, "and our troops being overseas right now and fighting for our freedom here, I think it maybe a little bit of a tribute from me to the support of our guys over there."
Eldredge has said that this year will be his last Olympic games, and while he hopes to win the gold medal, the 30-year-old says he would be satisfied with skating his best program.
"I have had so many successes in my career, that you know I have had the ups and downs and all that stuff," he says. " But if I go out there and do my job, that's all you can ask from yourself. If you go out there and do your best job and that job was not good enough - somebody else was better than you - you have to deal with that. That is just the way sport goes."
Todd Eldredge has never forgotten what the people of his hometown did to help him pursue his dream. He has helped raise money there for youth sports and helped finance a baseball field there. Dougie Anne Bohman, the Chairman of the Chatham Board of Selectmen, told VOA Sports that fans are extremely proud of Eldredge's accomplishments and are wishing him the best in Salt Lake City.
"Being a small community pretty much everybody knows everybody else and everybody pulls for each other," Bohman says. "And it is kind of nice that way. And we are especially proud to have Todd represent Chatham. And to have a hometown boy be in the Olympics is a great sensation for us all."
The last American men's figure skater to win an Olympic medal was Paul Wylie 10 years ago in Albertville, France. The challenging men's competition in Salt Lake City will determine if Todd Eldredge can change that statistic and finally earn the Olympic championship that has eluded him.