Tim Goebel had been so swamped with his work as an analytic consultant for Nielsen that he was not going to have a chance to leave his office base in Stamford, Conn., to soak in the national skating championships in San Jose, Calif.
Crunching figures, instead of tracing them as he once did, is his way of the world these days.
That’s not to say that he didn’t check his computer frequently to check on the results. And he spent his few breaks catching up on video replays of the competition. Pulled in two directions, between his “real-world” job now and his passion for his sport, Goebel realized he needed a 36-hour day to cram in everything he needed and wanted to do in 24.
In the 10 years since Goebel leaped his way to a bronze medal in Salt Lake City, a lot has changed for the one-time U.S. men’s champion and two-time world silver medalist. Goebel, who was 21 when he competed in the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games, is now 31, graduate of Columbia University and a member of the American workforce now employed at a media and information conglomerate. He remains involved in the sport of figure skating, serving as a technical specialist on judging panels at various competitions.
But the skater who broke ground in the sport as the “Quad King,” no longer laces up skates.
"I really miss competing sometimes,” Goebel said. “But I am not skating now. Not at all.
“The last time I skated to do jumps was two and a half years ago. In the summer of 2009, I was teaching pretty much every day and I would have an hour break and I would just skate. I went home to Chicago to judge at a competition and I went to skate. I had one of the worst falls of my life on a triple flip. I was basically horizontal in the air. I told myself, ‘I’m done. I quit.’ ”
And with that, the skater who made history by becoming the first in the world — and the first in Olympic competition — to land three quadruple-revolution jumps in one program, came off of the ice and hasn’t looked back.
Yet the sport remains a big part of his life. He enjoys watching young skaters rising through the ranks and is especially intrigued by a young woman named Gracie Gold, who claimed the junior national crown in January. Like Goebel, Gold is a natural jumper, and he believes she could be one of the top American contenders less than two years from now when the next Winter Games take place in Sochi, Russia.
It’s hard for Goebel to believe that 10 years ago, he was one to watch when he was competing in the Olympic Winter Games.
“It blows my mind,” he said.
Entering those Winter Games, Goebel was the U.S. silver medalist, sandwiched between a one-time world champion in Todd Eldredge, who placed first at the 2002 U.S. nationals, and Michael Weiss, who was the U.S. bronze medalist. But Goebel was the only one of the three American men who consistently landed quadruple jumps in competition — a maneuver that was necessary if any American had a chance to rival Russians Alexei Yagudin and Evgeny Plushenko.
Goebel’s coach at the time was Frank Carroll, considered one of the sport’s greatest coaches but one who had his share of heartbreak when it came to the Olympic Winter Games. To this day, Carroll is adamant that one of his students, 1980 Olympic silver medalist Linda Fratianne, should have won a gold medal. Another one of his students, Christopher Bowman, was exceptionally talented, but equally implosive, and could never be harnessed. And then he had Michelle Kwan, who was edged by Tara Lipinski for Olympic gold in Nagano, Japan, and abruptly fired Carroll shortly before the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
But 10 years ago, Goebel, with Carroll by his side, made skating history in Salt Lake City. Goebel did so by becoming the first skater to land three quads in an Olympic program and was the first to perform a quadruple salchow in the Winter Games. His performance was strong enough to secure a bronze medal as he finished behind Yagudin and Plushenko. Goebel was in third place after the short program and Plushenko rallied from a fourth-place showing in the short to claim the silver medal.
The bronze was plenty for both Goebel and Carroll, especially considering the U.S. men had not won an Olympic skating medal since 1992. It took Carroll until the 2010 Olympic Winter Games to guide a skater to a gold medal: Evan Lysacek scored that victory for him in Vancouver.
“Without the quad, it’s not men’s figure skating,” Plushenko said in disgust in Vancouver.
Ten years ago in Salt Lake City, the entire men’s medal podium, Plushenko included, all landed quads. All three American men attempted quads in the free skate, with Weiss landing a quad toe-triple toe-double loop and Eldredge falling on a quad toe.
Although Goebel has watched video of his long program, performed to “An American in Paris,” in Salt Lake City only once in its entirety, he remembers virtually every step of it.
“Good or bad, I don’t watch myself much on video,” he said. “But about two years ago, I was home and my coach from when I was 5 came over with her daughter and we watched it.
“It was kind of surreal … how you remember skating and how you see it on video can be two different experiences. It was very strange to actually watch it.”
What he remembers most is the feeling he had during those four and a half minutes in Salt Lake City.
“I remember landing the quad toe and feeling I was on my feet so when I stepped out on the second triple Axel, it was kind of surprising, but it didn’t really affect me; it kind of went by quickly,” Goebel said. “After the third quad, I felt I had enough gas in the tank. I felt good. I had trained in Colorado Springs for altitude training for two weeks before coming to Salt Lake so I felt good. I had energy.”
When he landed the third quad, Carroll, normally a reserved presence, began jumping up and down excitedly by the boards.
“I’m really proud of him,” Carroll told reporters at the time. “He made two Olympic records here. I was very excited about that and I think it’s something he should be very proud of.”
To this day no other skater has landed three quads in a program — a feat Goebel once likened to hitting three home runs in one game. Lysacek won the gold medal in Vancouver without attempting a quad and Plushenko landed one in Vancouver for the silver. Goebel openly lamented that the sport had not advanced much in the quad department and it is only recently, when the International Skating Union revised its scoring system, that quads have sneaked their way back into men’s programs.
This season, when American Brandon Mroz became the first skater in the world to land a quad lutz, Goebel was ecstatic to hear the news.
But when it comes to quad jumps, Goebel’s name is the one that jumps out.
Almost from the moment he landed that third quad, Goebel’s world became a whirlwind.
“I remember being on the podium, but that part goes by so fast,” Goebel said. “It’s just crazy, crazy after that.”
He recalls doing media interviews until about 2 a.m., only to turn back around at 4 a.m. to do an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show.
Goebel joined Olympic bronze medalist snowboarder Chris Klug for an appearance with Jay Leno.
Goebel continued training with hopes of making a second appearance in the Olympic Winter Games in Torino but fell short of that goal by placing seventh at the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. He retired from competitive skating and went to study at Columbia, enjoying his life as a “normal” college student. At first, some of his classmates were not even aware of his Olympic achievements.
Goebel might not be skating anymore but that does not mean his competitive juices have stopped flowing. Over Thanksgiving he agreed to enter a 10-mile run in Washington, D.C. The Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run is set for April 1. His goal is to run at an eight-mile pace. He admitted the challenge is “daunting,” but he knows he won’t be alone like he was 10 years ago skating on the ice in Salt Lake City.
And what can be more intimidating? Attempting three quads in a program or running 10 miles?
He will find out soon enough.