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Outspoken Stojko undeterred by criticism

"This ain't ballet," says two-time Olympic silver medalist

Elvis Stojko thinks Evgeni Plushenko is the guy to beat in Vancouver.
Elvis Stojko thinks Evgeni Plushenko is the guy to beat in Vancouver. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/17/2010) - Elvis Stojko, who's slated to cover the Vancouver Olympics for Yahoo Sports, is skipping Canadian nationals this week to work with the Yahoo crew in Spokane. And, considering what he has to say about his home country's judging, maybe that's a good thing.

"Patrick Chan scored 90 points in the short program, with a double, triple [combination] and a hand down on a flip?," the three-time world champions, who also won seven Canadian titles, said.

"That's ridiculous. I will say that straight out. Here, [Jeremy] Abbott had a clean, beautiful short, and he got 87 points. Two mistakes and 90 points? C'mon."

The plain-spoken Stojko, who returned to skating in last summer's Canadian National Exhibition tour after a several-year break from performing, is preparing for his Olympic gig by brushing up on the competitors likely to medal in Vancouver.

One he knows plenty about is former rival Evgeni Plushenko.

"He's the guy to beat," Stojko said. "What matters is putting it down on that day, and he's very consistent. He has all the components.

"Technically, he's almost untouchable. I see that he's practicing triple Axel, quad toe just for fun. I like his skating; it's clean, strong, masculine and powerful. The number one thing in men's skating is speed and power; those two things have to be rewarded."

That kind of statement -- particularly the word "masculine" -- got Stojko into hot water last spring.

"Last April or May, Skate Canada came to me and said, 'We're trying to promote men's skating, we don't have enough young guys getting into the sport, we want to push how athletic it is,'" he said.

"So, I did some interviews, and I spoke candidly, just as I'm doing now. Well, I got heat from Skate Canada; they left me out to dry. I got an email from William Thompson [Skate Canada CEO]. Jennifer Robinson wrote an article about it. It was ridiculous."

The campaign, which was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and in other prominent media outlets, backfired a bit. Thompson and others were quick to say Skate Canada wasn't suggesting its male skaters should butch it up; it just wanted to promote how exciting and athletic the sport could be.

Stojko scoffs at suggestions his comments were veiled anti-gay references.

"It's not about that at all. It's about what you do on the ice," he said. "Guy should skate like men, with strength and power. You can skate soft at times and have a connection to the music, but if you have too soft a way of skating, I don't appreciate it. If it's all just lyrical, I fall asleep."

The two-time (1994 and 1998) Olympic silver medalist added the fallout from his comments doesn't bother him.

"Hey, I don't take myself too seriously," he said. "I grew up as a figure skater, in Canada, where everyone else was a hockey player."

Besides Plushenko, there are other male skaters Stojko enjoys watching. Brian Joubert heads the list.

"Joubert's skating is very masculine," he said. "He's rough and hard-edged, sometimes it's not finished, but he attacks his programs and I love that. I want to be sitting on the edge of my seat; this isn't a ballet recital."

Two other Europeans, Samuel Contesti and Tomas Verner, also get thumbs up from Stojko. Another, two-time world champion Stéphane Lambiel, is on the cusp.

"Sometimes his skating is a little soft, sometimes he really attacks things," he said. "His spins are awesome, and he's a great showman."

Stojko, who's resided near Guadalajara, Mexico, for the past nine years, also argues that both quad and triple Axel jumps are short-changed under the International Judging System (IJS).

"I've read that [IJS] was created with input from athletes and coaches, but who did they talk to about doing a quad?" he said.

"A quad in a program just changes the equation. It takes years to master. It's worth what, about the same as a triple flip, triple toe [combination}? The difficulty level, it's not even close."

Stojko has a full plate these days. In addition to his renewed performing career, he coaches Mexican champion Humberto Contreras, who is slated to compete at worlds this season, and conducts select skating seminars.

Away from the rink, Stojko is something of a renaissance man. He's competed in martial arts, winning a silver medal in the Kung Fu event at the sport's 2005 world championships, and has also done some car racing. His eyes really light up, though, when he talks about his new album, "100 Lifetimes," and its single, "Let Me Be the One."

"We offered it at the ["Rock the Ice"] show in Peterborough [Ontario], and sold 2000 copies," he said. "We're making arrangements to offer it on iTunes and on my website."