What Timothy Goebel had done was so unfathomable, even the man who beat him was awe-struck.
Goebel became the first figure skater to hit three quadruple jumps in one program Saturday night at Skate America. That brought a look of disbelief from two-time world champion Alexei Yagudin, whose artistry was the deciding factor barely.
"You did three quads?" Yagudin said, shaking his head. "Geez!"
Elvis Stojko, the three-time world winner from Canada who perfected the quad, praised Goebel's jumping-jack performance.
"It's inevitable, it's evolution," said Stojko, who finished third. "It's amazing to see. It's what the sport is all about, to push forward. It was a great skate, obviously."
Goebel, the first American to complete a quadruple in competition last year, nailed a quad salchow-triple toe loop combination, a quad toe loop and a solo quad salchow. At the end of his leap into history, which moved him from third place to second behind the Russian, he covered his face with his hands for a long time and seemed to have trouble catching his breath.
The rest of the audience was breathless, too, at what it had witnessed.
"It's like hitting three grand slams in one game," said Goebel, 19, of Rolling Meadows, Ill. "One is awesome. Two is rare, and three has never been done.
"I just couldn't believe I did three quads. It was so unreal."
It was real enough that many were left wondering why he didn't win. But Goebel, beginning just his second year in senior competition after a stellar junior career, still lacks artistry. His presentation marks dropped him below Yagudin.
And he fell on a triple lutz and stepped out of a triple axel.
That might seem like nitpicking on a historic night, but Goebel didn't care.
"I knew if I wanted to stay in the medals, I had to fix something and fix it quick," said Goebel, who found a unique way of repairing his program. "In these competitions, you somehow find it within yourself to do it."
Yagudin wasn't great, but he also hit some difficult elements, including a triple axel-triple toe combination and seven triples in all. He cut his quad toe loop to a double toe, but still was first with six judges.
"Men's figure skating is changing so quick," said Yagudin, also only 19. "He is pushing us to do more quads."
U.S. champion Michael Weiss had a rough night, falling on his first two jumps, dropping him to fourth.
Later Saturday, Michelle Kwan went after her fourth title in the first major international event of the season. Kwan, a two-time world winner, three-time U.S. champion and 1998 Olympic silver medalist, led heading into the free skate.
In the afternoon, that rarest of occurrences in figure skating, a stunning upset, was pulled off by Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
The second-ranked team in their home county and with only two international competitions on their resume, Sale and Pelletier beat two-time world champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in pairs.
"This was a big relief for both of us," Pelletier said. "We've been wanting to win an international for a long time. Coming here and winning is one big relief, but I don't think it will change anything. I don't see ourselves being any different because we won."
With some unique lifts and two superb throws, Sale and Pelletier swept the seven judges in the free skate, worth two-thirds of the total score. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, 1998 Olympic silver medalists, had a rough go and wound up third behind France's Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis.
"It is difficult because it is 2,100 meters," Sikharulidze said of the mile-high altitude that most pairs skaters said had a big effect. "This is a new program and the first competition, and that's why it was difficult, too. And normal.
"Today, the skating was bad. We'll look forward to skating better."
All three American couples struggled. U.S. champs Danielle and Steve Hartsell even messed up a death spiral and wound up last out of eight. Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman were fifth, one spot in front of Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn. the 1994 Olympics.
There was an upset of lesser proportions in ice dancing, where veterans Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio beat Russians Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh. American champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev were third.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.