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Stars soldier on

Stars on Ice begin 2001-02 season in Lake Placid, their first without Scott Hamilton

Source: Press Republican
Date: November 21, 2001
Author: Sam DiMeo

LAKE PLACID - They are an elite team of professionals - acknowledged masters of their frosty craft.

But it won't be the ice that will challenge the skaters of Target Stars On Ice when their 60-date tour opens here Saturday. It will be the absence of charismatic leader and co-founder, Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion and one of the most recognizable figure skaters in the world.

Although Hamilton retired last year from the grind of the five-month annual tour he helped found, the cast remains peppered with world champions and former Olympic gold medalists such as Tara Lipinski, Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi, Steve Cousins, Katarina Witt, Ilia Kulik Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, Denis Petrov and Lucinda Ruh.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Target Stars On Ice.

WHERE: Olympic Center, Lake Placid.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.

TICKETS: $35, $50.

INFO: Olympic Center box office, on-line at www.orda.org and at all Olympic Center outlets. Phone charge: 523-3330. Group Information (20 or more): 523-1655.

Cousins is considered one of Hamilton's best friends, while the 35-year-old Browning is now the veteran of the cast and has crossed friendly blades with Hamilton on the tour for four years.

"He is like a freakin' (skating) god," joked Browning. "We treat each other like brothers who love to hate each other on Wednesdays. If we haven't abused each other verbally at least twice a day, something is wrong."

Turning serious, Browning said the tour is a top priority for the 1984 Olympic gold medalist.

"Scott is really, really very proud of Stars On Ice," he said. "It is his baby. He changed the professional skating world and this is the biggest way he did it."

Cousins agreed, saying the skaters must find their own way as the tour matures.

"Definitely, without Scott, it totally changes the dimension of the tour and the show," said Cousins, an eight-time British national champion. "It's just totally different. There is not a bonafide leader like we had before."

Hamilton, along with Image Marketing Group and Bob Cane, pioneered the figure-skating tour industry when they launched Stars On Ice 15 years ago.

"They sat down and decided to put this whole thing together," said Browning, himself a four-time world champion and the first to complete a successful quadruple jump in competition.

"Here I am playing 60 cities across the United States with amazing lights, the best choreographers ... and it's all been set up," said the Canadian-born Browning. "If the show can't go on with those conditions ... I feel comfortable the birds can be pushed out of the nest and move on."

Both were quick to acknowledge that Hamilton, 43, who continues to produce the show and whose voice will be played on tape during the performance, made his presence felt on and off the ice with skaters and fans alike.

"I am going to miss Scott, mostly in the dressing room," said Browning. "Scott is brilliant ... but he's also really funny and he's a lot of fun and a really good friend. I am going to miss him in the dressing-room and rehearsal atmosphere."

"He is one of my best friends," said Cousins, who now lives in Ontario. "It is different for me not having him on tour. It's good for him, for what he wanted to do. But it is exciting that tour is going to start a new chapter.

"Everyone is really picking up the slack and stepping up to the plate and hitting home runs," he continued. "It is very unique and different than last year, the way we geared up for his farewell."

This year, the spotlight will shine more brightly on former Olympic champions Lipinski, Witt and Yamaguchi.

"The main focus is on the girls this year, so it's a big difference," said Cousins. "It has a bit of a show-girl atmosphere in it, so it is different. ... It makes it good for the guys. We get a chance to interact."

Cousins said he will be interacting with Witt in several "exciting" routines.

"All my friends are already calling me all kinds of names (for having Witt as a partner)," he laughed.

Browning has two solo performances on the slate. One includes a song written with Barenaked Ladies guitarist Ed Robertson.

"I'm calling it my art piece," said Browning. "It is art for art's sake ... We wrote a song and this is the song. It's just Ed on the acoustic guitar."

In the meantime, the skaters practice daily at the Olympic Center in preparation for the tour's opening night.

"Once the show is on, it's all business," said Browning. "It's work, and it is very important for us to keep up."