SALT LAKE CITY -- Gliding, sliding and tip-toeing forward and backward across the ice, Russia's Alexi Yagudin placed himself in gold medal contention in men's figure skating Tuesday night at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
After placing first in the short program, Yagudin looked over his shoulder and saw a surprising challenger from Japan.
Takeshi Honda, fifth at the world championships and 15th at Nagano in 1998, stood in second place going into Thursday's free skate. Honda started his performance with a quadruple toe-loop on the way to moving into the prime challenging position.
"Most of all, I went out and had fun," Honda said.
"That's just the beginning," said Yagudin, the world champion in 1999 and 2000.
Timothy Goebel of the United States landed the first quadruple salchow in Olympic history and also moved into gold medal contention by placing third after the short program. His performance had no obvious flaws and scores ranging from 5.5 to 5.7 prompted loud boos from the crowd at the Salt Lake City Ice Palace.
"It's the best short program I've skated this year in competition," he said. "To do it in front of my home country is just such a thrill. It gives me such a feeling of momentum and confidence."
Surprisingly, several medal dreams pretty much vanished during an erratic night on the ice.
Russian Evgeni Plushenko, the reigning world champion who was expected to battle Yagudin for the gold, fell on his opening quadruple toe-loop and stood fourth, within striking distance of a medal but not as close as expected.
Thirty-year-old Elvis Stojko of Canada, a crowd favorite, slipped slightly on his opening quad and drew low marks in the required moves and stood seventh. Michael Weiss of the United States was eighth.
And 30-year-old two-time U.S. Olympian Todd Eldredge, the sentimental favorite among the crowd of 16,234, slipped coming out of a quadruple toe-loop and muffed a double-spin coming out of it. Then, he fell on a triple-axel and placed ninth, well out of medal contention.
"I tried the quad because it had been going so well in practice," he said. "But really, it was the triple axel that got me and that's one of my best jumps."
After he finished, Eldredge slapped the back of his head in frustration. He left the judges stand forlornly flipping a red, white and blue teddy bear tossed to him.
"You try to hard; you overdo things," he said. "It still says a lot for a 30-year old."
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