When the subject is heights, the skater is Rudy Galindo, master athlete among professionals.
Irony, however, is what Galindo has scaled the highest.
Even as the lament bellows across the land that there are ''too many pampered, spoiled athletes,'' the most unpampered, unspoiled athlete of all plies his craft in the silk-and-sequined world of men's figure skating.
Galindo, who has hit more triples than Wahoo Sam Crawford, says he could cram eight triple jumps into his routine ''if I had to,'' but nowadays finds that ''four or five'' typically does the job.
''If you do too many jumps you can't pull the audience into your program,'' Galindo said. ''As an amateur, you can pull people in (with a lot of triples), but when you're a pro, people want to see entertainment, artistry and the theatrical, so you can't just fill up your program with jumps.''
Saturday night at The Crown, the 28-year-old Galindo slipped on triple axel and triple flip jumps, but his third-place position still leaves him able to win the U.S. Open Figure Skating Championship today. About 5,000 spectators attended Saturday's competition.
At a glance
What: U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championship
Today's schedule: Master Cup for men, women and pairs, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: The Crown
What: Prize money totalling $500,000
Tickets: $25. To order by phone, call 721-1000.<
The sport has come a long way since the World Figure Skating Championship captivated Cincinnati in 1987. Rock and roll is in, the compulsories are out. By and large, athletes reign.
''I think skating is going in a great direction,'' Galindo said. ''There are different skaters now. They don't look all the same. There are athletic skaters and artistic skaters. I think the popularity of skating speaks for itself.''
Every day, Galindo spends three hours in the gym doing weight training and cardio exercise. Three years ago, he had a personal trainer, but found he didn't need her anymore. He already knew what he had to do.
''As for my jumps (during practice), my sister's there to help me (refine the technique) if they go wrong,'' Galindo said.
Galindo's sister is Laura, the person who got her brother into figure skating. Without Laura leading the way, Rudy figures he probably would have wound up in another sport.
''I really like watching gymnastics on TV, and I'm short (5-foot-6), so gymnastics is probably where I'd probably have wound up,'' Galindo said. ''But I was skating so much at a young age, I never tried it. Besides, we couldn't have afforded it. I progressed so fast in skating, my dad (a truck driver) just kept me in it, shelling out all that money.''
Laura had give up skating because there wasn't money for both. Galindo was only a year into skating in his native San Jose, Calif., when he began winning every competition he entered. By the time he was 14, he was competing overseas in the junior world championships in Sarajevo.
When he's home, he's often making speeches and attending functions for charity.
It was in San Jose that Galindo broke through as a skating star in 1996. He and Kristi Yamaguchi had won U.S. pairs titles in 1990 and 1991, but then Yamaguchi dropped pairs to concentrate on singles in the 1992 Olympics (she won the gold).
Just before he and Yamaguchi split up, their coach died of complications from AIDS. In 1993, Galindo's father died of a heart attack, and his brother died of AIDS-related causes. In 1995, his singles coach died of complications from AIDS. Amidst all this tragedy, Galindo finished fifth in nationals in 1993, seventh in 1994 and eighth in 1995, when he had to take off eight months from skating to teach to earn money to continue his career.
Despite all this - or maybe because of it - Galindo said he felt no pressure at the nationals in San Jose in 1996.
''I just wanted to do my best in my last (amateur) nationals in my hometown,'' he said. ''I figured I might as train really hard and skate well in front of my family and friends who can come and watch me for the first time.''
Skate well? Galindo scored what the Boston Globe called ''the greatest upset in the history of amateur skating'' before 10,869 screaming local fans. And what a story it was: local Mexican-American, who rides to practice on a bicycle and lives with his mother in an East San Jose trailer park where he grew up, makes good.
Manley stumbled, soared Saturday's story
Schieve soars after kidney transplant Friday's story