Looking Back at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan


Like in 1994, the reigning World Champions leading into the Olympics was a non-Russian pairs team. Woetzel and Steuer had a very bad experience in Lillehammer (we all remember her fall in the free skate), and wanted to end their eligible careers in Nagano on a high note. But they were up against some strong competition from the Russians--Bereznia and Sikharulidze had dominated the Champions Series during the fall, beating W&S at Trophy Lalique and followed that by winning the Europeans. And no one could count out the team of Kazakova and Dmitriev--after all, Artur had won medals at the last two Olympics, and he was known as a skater that could perform when it really counted. The United States also had two strong pairs--Ina and Dungjen and Meno and Sand. But Meno and Sand seemed to have lost their edge, and Jenni was injured. Ina and Dungjen had skated two clean performances at the '97 Worlds and still finished fourth, so their medal prospects were also dim.

Kazakova and Dmitriev won the short program, but not deservedly so. Oksana had problems with one of the eight elements, the back outside death spiral, and they performed it very poorly in the short program. Woetzel and Steuer skated a clean and elegant short program and placed second. Bereznia and Sikharulidze placed third in the short, despite the fact that Anton fell on his triple toe. B&S were placed ahead teams that hadn't fallen, one of those being the Americans Ina and Dungjen. I&D were definitely the crowd favorites, and IMO should have placed ahead of the pairs who had falls and poor death spirals.

Unfortunately, the judging didn't improve in the free skate. B&S were acutally able to move up a spot and win silver, despite the fact that they fell short on a triple twist and fell on a lift! W&S had a few minor errors, but dropped to the bronze medal. K&D skated beautifully, and really did deserve to win gold--I'll give the judges that! Ina and Dungjen had a less than perfect long program, but it was still (technically) about the same as B&S's performance.

One of the saddest stories of the paris event was the performance of Meno and Sand--they finished a disappointing eighth. They had finished a promising fifth in the Lillehammer games and won two consecutive World Bronze Medals, in 1995 and 1996. They appeared to be on the road to an Olympic medal until a string on injurieds cost them their National and World titles in 1997. They were named to the 1998 Olympic team after Jenni suffered a bone contusion at the 1998 Nationals, and they appeared to be ready for the Games. But Todd touched down on his triple toe in the short and Jenni fell apart in the long. These Olympics provided some sad momentes for this elegant and lovable team.

The Top Five
1. Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev, Russia
2. Elena Bereznia and Anton Sikharulidze, Russia
3. Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer, Germany
4. Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, USA
5. Xue Shen and Zhao Hongbo, China

Men's Singles

This was an exciting event. Only three names had been tossed around before the games when the medals s were being predicted--Todd, Elvis, and Ilia. In fact, that had been the medal podium at the '98 CSF. Ilia had won, with Elvis second and Todd third. Elvis Stojko came into the Games the reigning and three-time World Champion, but Canadians had been World Champs coming into the last three Olympics--and so far, no gold. Todd Eldredge came into the Games just as hungry, after resurrecting a career that seemed over in 1994. Todd, the 1996 World Champion, hadn't even qualified for the 1994 Olympics. But finishes of 2nd, 1st, and 2nd in the subsequent World Championships had made him a contender. Ilia Kulik had made a splash in 1995, when he won the European Championships at the age of seventeen, but had only won one major medal since--a silver at the 1996 Worlds. One skater had been counted out of the medals race--the 1994 Olympic Bronze medalist and 1995 World Bronze Medalist, Philippe Candeloro. After his bronze in 1995, he was plagued by injuries. He finished ninth at the Worlds in 1996, and won a silver at the '97 Europeans before succumbing to his injury again and missing the '97 Worlds. But Philippe had won a silver at the Worlds in 1994, on Japanese soil, and at that time also won over the hearts of the Japanese people.

Ilia won the short, with Elvis second and Todd third. All of them skated well, and the judges were definitely divided--despite the fact that Todd finished third, he had three 1st place ordinals. The long program looked to be very interesting, and it was.

Kulik skated first in the free skate, and he did so flawlessly. He probably topped Brian Boitano's long program of ten years before, at least technically--he landed eight triples and a quadruple toe loop. It was perfect (well, except for the costume, but we won't talk about that), but the competition was far from over. Todd skated next, but he fell apart. A man once dubbed "The Comeback Kid" had spent four years for the opportunity to skate for Olympic gold, but when the moment came, it all slipped away. Eldredge landed only five triples and fell once--but he was still in second place until Philippe Candeloro stepped onto the ice. Philippe had something to prove, and he finally did it in Nagano. He turend on the charm, landed two triple axels (for what seems like the first time ever) and stole a medal from Todd Eldredge.

The last on the ice that night was Elvis Stojko. All week, he had denied reports that he was suffering from the flu, but it turned out that Elvis was hiding a bigger injury--he had pulled his groin at the Canadian Nationals. Since then, the pain had subsided, and he was able to skate a clean short at the Olympics. Stojko was not going to give up that easy--since his Olympic silver in 1994 he had been asserting himself as the bst in the world. There was the Candian jinx, and the constant talk about his lack of artistry. Elvis was a fighter, and he probed it in his 1998 Olympic free skate. He landed eight triples (but no quad), but didn't let the pain show until the final moment of his free skate. In fact, Stojko was in such pain that he had to be carried out of the kiss and cry! Elvis ended up winning a second consectuive Olympic Silver (like his idol, Brian Orser), but his finish seemed almost secondary to his incredible courage.

The Top Five
1. Ilia Kulik, Russia
2. Elvis Stojko, Canada
3. Philippe Candeloro, France
4. Todd Eldredge, USA
5. Alexei Yagudin, Russia

Ice Dancing

It appeared that the image of Olympic ice dancing could not sink any lower after the controversial judging and the discussion that followed the 1994 event. But 1994 was nothing compared to 1998--this "competition" would be far more controversial and discussed among coaches, skaters, and fans alike.

For starters, there were rumors for months before the games began that "bloc judging" might occur at the games. "Bloc judging" is a term that refers to the old days of the cold war and how the Eastern European judges tended to give ice dancers the same placements, thus fixing the competition. Now it only refers to a group of judges from different countries (which coincidentally tend to be former Eastern Bloc countries) getting together to benefit each other's skaters/countries. In fact, a few days prior to the Games, a reporter on the inside of the judging community told the two-time World Bronze medalists Bourne and Kraatz that they would finish fourth instead of third in the event. The Canadians brushed off the rumor and skated anyway. What actually happened in the ice dancing even is a whole other story.

What was played out on the ice over the three-day competition had very little to do with the judging. In fact, Grishuk and Platov, the reigning World and Olympic Champions, made a substantial mistake in the first compulsory dance and were still judged first over skaters who had skated cleanly. As predicted, Bourne and Kraatz were judged lower in the compulsories, but they were actually in fifth place after the first compulsory dance, behind the Russian team of Lobecheva and Averbukh (who had finished 7th in the world the year before) and France's Anisinna and Peizerat (who were 5th in the world in '97.) B&K had been cheated, and everyone admitted it except the judges and their competitors. Two- time World Silver Medalists Krylova and Ovsiannikov remained in second place, followed by A&P and then L&A. B&K tied the Russians for fourth in the second compulsory, and the top three remained the same. Meanwhile, the American team of Punsalan and Swallow had also dropped in the rankings. They had finished sixth in the '97 Worlds, and now were seventh behind two teams they had beaten in 1997--L&A and the Italian team of Fusar-Poli and Margaglio. Unfortunately for the Americans, they did not have a judge on the panel, and in these Olympics, that really did matter.

The judging controversy continued in the Original dance, which was the Jive. It was rock 'n roll, and was supposed to be fun--but the controversy over placements overshadowed the energy and spirit of the dance. Most skaters stayed in the same place, and B&K took over the fourth spot, beating out L&A. Because Bourne and Kraatz finished fourth in the original dance, they would have no chance at bronze unless they beat both A&P and K&O in the free dance. The judges had essentially taken them out of the running.

The free dance had become a mere formality. Grishuk and Platov skated cleanly, yet conservatively--they left a lift out and skated cautiously. Krylova and Ovsiannikov skated their infamous "Carmen" free dance, complete with excessive posing and over-acting on Angelika's part. For their part, Anisissa and Peizerat skated a beautiful free skate to Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." Bourne and Kraatz thrilled the crowd with their "Riverdance" routine, and even finished third in the free dance, ahead of A&P. But they could not win bronze because of their placements in the compulsory dances.

For the second consecutive Olympics, the ice dance judges had slighted a popular team. As a result, there is discussion at the International Olympic Committee--it is being recommended that ice dancing be dropped from the Olympics. Naturally, this won't happen, but it serves as a wake-up call to the judges.

The Top Five
1. Pasha Grishuk and Evgeny Platov, Russia
2. Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovisiannikov, Russia
3. Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, France
4. Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, Canada
5. Irina Lobecheva and Ilia Averbukh, Russia

More to come later...

This is an original composition, written by me in 1998. All rights are reserved!!!

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