Refocused Stojko skating in a dream world
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
The first reaction is to try to push your cynicism aside.
After all, you want to believe in the psycho-babble Elvis Stojko speaks. You want to trust his earnest demeanour, however delusional it may seem. You want to be as wide-eyed and optimistic as he is with a new goal and a brand new finish line.
Because hell, if you can't hang on to your dreams, what else is there?
"I just follow what my heart is telling me and go with it," said Stojko, standing in the arena that bears his name, ending his retirement from figure skating after one year, one month and 18 days.
"The people (who) know me know that I wasn't myself for the last four years. Either I was low or depressed or not on top of things ... You draw on your own negativity. I got through that and I'm ready to move on.
"At the time (in Salt Lake City) I said: 'I'm done, I'm done.' I totally let go of skating completely, I had no intention of coming back."
But back he is. For how long, he isn't saying. It is six years since he was a world champion, five years and one eighth-place performance since he won an Olympic figure skating medal.
And there he stood yesterday, talking about doing it better than he has ever done it before. The words, spoken in different tone, were eerily familiar. We have heard them all before in different places from different voices.
From Larry Holmes wanting one more fight. From Michael Jordan wanting one more jump shot. From Jim Palmer, knowing in his mind he still had pitches left. From Frank Sinatra, with scratchy voice, still trying to hit that note.
The great ones all have difficulty saying goodbye. It's part of what made them what they were. They gave more of themselves, had more talent, had more passion, lived the life. And then couldn't find a life that fulfilled them the way their vocation had.
Elvis Stojko was one of them. He was, to use the Moses Znaimer term, a Canadian original. Three times a world champion, twice an Olympic medal winner, once robbed of gold. He took on the figure skating establishment, made it recognize his athleticism and power, refused to conform to the feminine role models: He was forever in concert with who he was.
Except maybe until now. And here he is at 31, talking about the gold medal he never won, talking unspecifically about the Turin Olympics of 2006, when he'll be almost 34 if and when he gets to skate in his fifth Olympic Games.
He has a new coach, two new choreographers, and the belief that age doesn't matter. "I feel like I haven't hit my peak yet," he said. "Like, I haven't physically hit it yet. That's what I'm striving for.
"No one has ventured this far yet. So who's to say it's not possible. I did a bunch of stuff already that they said wasn't possible and I was doing it ... No matter what I do, it's all icing on the cake for me. I'm just glad I can be part of this and feel good about my skating."
The last years of competition haven't been kind to Stojko. In Nagano, at the 1998 Winter Games, he battled flu and a groin injury to somehow end up a brave silver-medal winner. But since then, it has been problem after problem.
"I tried to come back in '99, but still the legs were lagging," he said. "In 2000, I didn't have the injury anymore, but psychologically my body wasn't firing the way it used to. In 2001, the year was a total bomb ... A lot of turmoil was going on. In 2002, I pushed through because that was why I stayed in (for the Olympics). I got through it, but still not emotional, still not connected.
Now, it is 2003, and a trip to the world championships as a television commentator brought back all the old feelings. But he didn't want to talk about skating anymore. He wanted to do it. His mother knew about it before he told even her. She could always read him best.
"And now I've got it back," he said. "I wake up every morning wanting to go to the rink, wanting to train, wanting to be on top of things. It's much easier than it was before. My body is healthy, my mind is healthy and I'm ready to go."
You stand in the arena named for him and listen to Stojko and hope he has a chance when reality tells you this is nonsense, his personal nonsense. But if anyone has earned the right to dream, why not a Canadian legend named Elvis Stojko? Why not?