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Eldredge left home at the age of 10

Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Date: April 5, 2002
Author: Richard Duckett

WORCESTER - "Ah, it's all right," Todd Eldredge said.

The voice sounded accepting. Laid-back, even.

He had just been asked about not winning an Olympic medal, even though the Chatham native's illustrious career as a figure skater included winning the 1996 World Championship and six U.S. National Championships.

Salt Lake City has been described as a gallant try. Mr. Eldredge won his sixth U.S. National at the age of 30 to qualify for the Olympics. But a fall in the Olympic short program left him in ninth place. He fell again at the beginning of his long program, but then skated his heart out the rest of the way. He moved up to sixth place. Again, not enough for a medal. But there was something the judges could not take away from him.

Namely, the Olympic experience itself.

"For me it was a great experience -- taking part in the Olympic games in your home country. I think all the Americans felt great," Mr. Eldredge said during a recent telephone interview. "For me, being able to be part of carrying the World Trade Center flag in the opening ceremonies -- that was just a tremendous honor to be able to do that ... if I hadn't come back and given it another shot I probably would have been more upset with myself."

In an earlier interview he had recalled "The end of the program, standing in the middle of the ice, listening to the crowd go nuts, and just enjoying that moment."

There will be many more skating moments for Mr. Eldgredge and his fans to enjoy. But not in the pressure cooker of Olympic competition.

On Feb. 20, six days after what was now his final Olympic appearance, Mr. Eldredge announced his retirement from Olympic-eligible competition. Two days after that he signed a six-year deal to join the Target Stars on Ice Presented by ThermaSilk tour.

His Chatham-based parents will get the opportunity to see him skate again tomorrow night when Target Stars on Ice comes to the Worcester Centrum Centre. The show also features skating greats Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt and Ilia Kulik.

"My parents will probably come up to the show," Mr. Eldredge said.

Born to a family of commercial fishermen, Mr. Eldredge began skating at the age of 5 after his parents had bought him skates -- hockey skates.

"I saw a figure skater doing jumps and spins and I thought, 'Hey, that might be more interesting. Why don't I give that a shot?' Here we are 25 years later."

His parents returned the hockey skates for figure skates.

"At a young age, you don't realize your potential," he said of when he realized that he might have a special talent as a skater.

But other people did recognize something special.

When he was 10 years old, his parents made the difficult decision to allow him to leave home and move to Philadelphia to live with another family for advanced training.

"I started moving up the ladder and getting better and better," Mr. Eldredge recalled. Winning a novice championship, "I thought, OK, this is kind of cool,'" he said in his relaxed way.

On winning his first U.S. National Championship in 1990, "That's when I knew I was in good company, you might say."

Asked about his two most memorable moments as a figure skater, he said "Winning the world title in 1996 was a huge thing for me. This year, winning the national championships 12 years after winning my first one was pretty cool."

Along the way there had been dazzling performances -- and injuries and disappointments. He finished fourth in the 1998 Olympics at Nagano, Japan, -- a definite contender for a medal until he fell in the long program.

But it's all right. "Sometimes you win some and you lose some. It's the nature of any sport," Mr. Eldredge said. "It's not always going to go your way, and hopefully you just kind of do your thing, have a great skate, and see what the judges end up doing."

After the Salt Lake City Olympics, he had to figure out what he was going to do next. Joining Target Stars on Ice had not been planned out before the Olympics, he said. But after the games were over, he was approached about joining the tour. "This opportunity came along and I thought it would be a great opportunity so I decided to go for it."

Currently Mr. Eldredge skates two solo numbers and joins the cast for a few minutes during the finale. Because he came on board halfway through the 2001-2002 tour, choreographers have limited his interaction with other skaters.

"I would have had to learn a whole lot of steps, and it would have thrown everyone else off, too."

But that will change. The U.S. tour ends in Portland, Maine, on April 20. Then there will be a short break and a tour of Canada in May. Rehearsals for the 2002-2003 Target Stars on Ice will begin in September.

Mr. Eldredge who now lives in Lake Angelus, near Detroit, is looking forward to having the summer off.

"This summer will be a little more relaxing, not having to train for the Olympic Games. I'll play some golf and just relax a bit."

Meanwhile, the skating is now a lot more relaxing, which temperamentally should suit Mr. Eldredge just fine.

"I've had a lot of fun," he said of his experience in Target Stars on Ice thus far.

"A lot of the people on the tour are all good friends of mine. It's kind of fun to get out and have a more relaxed atmosphere and have some good times with those guys. Basically, we just go out there and have fun with the crowd and really enjoy our skating."