Stojko, Elvis: Maclean's 1995 Honor Roll
Tired and coming down with a cold, Elvis Stojko just wanted to collapse on the sofa in his Richmond Hill, Ont., apartment. But that was not in the cards. The reigning king of figure skating had long before promised to attend a black-tie fund-raiser for Canada's Special Olympians, and he was not about to renege. Harried and somewhat glum, he arrives at the downtown Toronto convention centre just in time, adjusting his black tie and studs as he rushes through the lobby. But when he joins the other sports celebrities being introduced to the packed ballroom, he is all smiles. He and another world champion, sprinter Donovan Bailey, are the last two athletes called to the stage, and their pairing seems to delight them as much as it does the cheering audience. Later, his oncoming cold forgotten, Stojko talks excitedly about meeting Bailey. "Donovan's a great guy," he says. "That was a lot of fun."
Typically, Elvis's glass is always at least half full, and the 23-year-old's ability to overcome obstacles propelled him to his second straight world figure skating championship, last March in Birmingham, England. Only two months before, he had partially torn a ligament in his ankle at the Canadian finals in Halifax. The doctors who examined him insisted that it would take eight weeks for the ankle to heal sufficiently to withstand the stress of jumps, but Stojko needed that time to train. With the help of an acupuncturist and holistic healing techniques learned from nearly a lifetime of studying martial arts, he was landing jumps in just two weeks. At Birmingham, his ankle still sore and swollen, he won with a spectacular performance that included eight triple jumps.
In Canada, Stojko is the superstar next door. He practically grew up competing on TV, and his enormous popularity has led to his own skating tour, TV specials and national advertisements. On the ice, his soaring jumps have left audiences breathless and redefined the standards of his sport. Yet Stojko is steadfastly a regular guy. He lives in an apartment built into his parent's home, drives a pickup, studies kung fu and gets his fun driving dirt bikes and snowmobiles. His reaction to fame suggests that, despite his name, he is more James Dean than Elvis Presley. "After I won the first time, it was hard to get used to," he says. "I guess I am a loner - I like to do my own thing - and it's difficult when you have people pulling you left and right." He is also one of the hardest-working athletes in his sport. "It's simple," he says after a practice session. "The more you do this, the better you get."
Stojko has no worries that success will breed complacency. "I don't go out there for the medals or the money or the fame," he says. "It's the personal satisfaction of getting better every day, of pushing my limits and the limits of the sport." He plans to remain an amateur until the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and that pursuit has forced him, among other things, to put off going to university. "I'm willing to pay the price because of what all this has done for me," he says. "I have gained confidence, my understanding of people and the world, all from skating. No amount of money can buy that."
More than ever, the skater will have a full plate in 1996. The Worlds are being held in Edmonton, where Stojko will be host and leader of the Canadian team. He is not daunted. "I've been at six World Championships and two Olympic Games," he says. "But I'm only 23, so the way I look at it, I still have a lot left in me." That is surely no comfort to his competitors, but it is good news for his fans.
Maclean's December 18, 1995