He fell. He didn't even consider trying a quadruple jump. And world champion Todd Eldredge still outskated Canada's Elvis Stojko, his top competitor in the first qualifying round of the World Figure Skating Championships on Sunday.
Eldredge, the U.S. champion, completed seven clean triple jumps, including two triple-triple combinations, to top Stojko and qualify to defend his 1996 title - probably without the quad."I am going to take that risk and hope it's enough," Eldredge said. "If it's not enough then it's something to thing about for the Olympics next year.
For all Eldredge's attempts to downplay the necessity of the quad to keep the crown, the jump remained the focus of qualifications for the men's short program on Wednesday.
In the second round, the Russians soared.
European champion Alexei Urmanov hit an astonishing high-flying quad with a jumping ease he hasn't displayed since breaking a leg training in 1992. Ilya Kulik, the No. 2 skater in the world, matched the quad, but Urmanov had him raised a triple with six.
American Michael Weiss, whose quadruple at U.S. nationals last month was disqualified because of a slight two-footed landing, didn't try to the jump, marking the spot instead with a clean triple toe loop. He placed fourth in the second qualifying heat behind the Russians and France's Eric Millot.
Stojko, the first skater to pull off a quadruple-triple combination in competitive figure skating, made the only quad attempt in the first qualifying round. He landed on two feet, then fell back on his hands.
But the 1994 and 1995 world champion wasn't psyched out.
"Everything felt good going in, even if I didn't get it," Stojko said. "I wanted to have an nice setup for the quad. You are just trying to get the pattern, the setup and the feel for it. It felt good, the weight was good and we are on track for Thursday."
Eldredge, edged by Stojko's jumping superiority at Hamilton, Ontario, last month, is likely to be the only one of the top skaters not to even attempt the quadruple in the world championships.
A reverse jumper, Eldredge would have to pick into the ice with a recently injured right ankle to get rotation for the jump.
"I can't go into four revolutions if it's going to hurt," Eldredge said. "I haven't done it in over a week. I'm not going to risk it right now."
But Eldredge's coach, Richard Callaghan, wasn't ruling out the jump as absolutely as the skater. "If he absolutely knows he needs it, he'll do it."
Eldredge was on the verge of completing a perfect program when he found himself in an unusual competitive position, sprawled on the ice on his second triple axel. Eldredge confessed that he gave into a bout of tiredness.
None of the top competitors knew quite how much energy to put into the qualifying rounds. Too much, and the skaters risked peaking early; too little and they risked leaving a bad impression with the judges that could spill over into the final long program on Thursday.
"The qualifying round was a little hard to get into," Eldredge said. "If I had given 100 percent, I would have made the second triple axel."
Until this year, the top 10 placing skaters from the previous championship were exempt. This year, all skaters from the champion on down had to qualify in two rounds that cut the short program field to a total of 30 skaters.
Many top skaters grumbled about the pressure of having to pull off a semi-competitive long program. But only American Dan Hollander paid dearly. He placed 10th last year, which would have been an automatic bye under the old rules, but failed to make the cut with an 18th-place qualifying round.
Hollander's poor placing could cost the United States an Olympic berth next year at Nagano, Japan, depending on how well Eldredge and Weiss finish in this event.