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Olympic champions headline Stars on Ice

Source: Denver Post
Date: January 22, 2002
Author: Ed Will

Tuesday, January 22, 2002 - This year's Stars on Ice tour has plenty of star power.

The show features - at least for a couple of weeks - the reigning men's and women's Olympic champions.

It also boosts of being the first ice show to feature on one bill figure skating's three most glamorous Olympic champions: Tara Lipinski, who won the gold medal in 1998, Kristi Yamaguchi, 1992, and Katarina Witt, 1984 and 1988.

But for Colorado skating fans, one very familiar name will be missing at Wednesday night's show: Scott Hamilton. After 16 years, Hamilton, a part-time Denver resident, retired last year from the tour he co-founded in 1986. His absence, plus the aftermath of Sept. 11, weighed heavily on the cast and crew as they kicked off the 61-city tour on Dec. 28 in Baltimore.

"We were a little more than nervous," said Kurt Browning, a four-time World champion. "We are doing OK. I expect there are going to be cities that are pretty empty, and then we will have our old faithfuls, like Madison Square Garden, where we do quite well."

He also said he expects to see a large crowd for the Denver show at the Pepsi Center, which is the 15th stop on the tour of one-nighters that lasts until April 20.

"We have done 10 shows and basically we are pretty happy," Browning said. "When something good is on autopilot, you can take elements of it away and it still will be fine. And I think that is what we are. . . . Scott is a very, very smart businessman and to put one person's name on a show limits its ability to survive. And I think he knew that. It is kind of like push the baby out of the nest and off we go."

Browning's comments came in a telephone interview from his home in Toronto, Ontario, which he gets to visit about once a month while on tour.

This is his seventh time with Stars on Ice. While the travel remains grueling, he remembers how much worse it was before skaters started flying from city to city via a charter DC-9.

"We really don't have to do anything until 11 o'clock in the morning, and we use to have to get up at 7, put your bags out at 7:30 and leave at 8," he said.

The show's lighting, costumes, props, sets and sound systems travel on three packed tractor-trailer trucks, tour director Dave Hoffis said.

Tonight, the show is in Albuquerque. Within three hours of the final bow, Hoffis' crew of 10 stagehands and 25 local hires will have the trucks reloaded and pointed toward Denver.

They plan to start work at the Pepsi Center by 8 a.m. Wednesday, he said.

"It takes about four to five hours to get everything in and set up," Hoffis said. "Then, the crew spends about two hours going through and focusing lights . . . The skaters come in at 4 o'clock. They take two hours to warm up. . . . Then an hour for the doors to open and get the audience in."

Browning said it would be nice to do more than one show in each city, but noted this is not the type of skating performance that can be repeated eight or nine times over four days, as some ice shows are.

"It is a different style of show," he said. "We have Olympic and world champions, mostly. The style of skating we are doing - and I don't care what people write in the newspaper - is hard. We are challenging ourselves. Kristi Yamaguchi does a triple flip, triple loop and triple lutz in one show. Expect for axel, those are the three hardest triples.

"We have Ilia Kulik, who for the next couple of weeks anyway is the reigning Olympic champion. Right now he is doing two triple axels in his first number. This is the stuff that wins the Olympics."

Olympic gold is a major theme of this year's show, which revolves around the three women champions and what they gave up to be successful and what it has brought them.

While this is the first major tour that Lipinski, Yamaguchi and Witt have taken together, also it could well be the last.

"This might be Kristi's last year," Browning said. This is Yamaguchi's 10th Stars on Ice tour.

"In fact I think it is. She hasn't been saying that it is because we just did that last year (with Hamilton retiring)," he said. "I think Kristi is downplaying it, and there is the slightest chance she will come back, but I don't think she will."