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Stars on Ice tour likely Hamilton's finale

Source: Ottawa Citizen
Date: April 18, 2000
Author: Bruce Deachman

Copyright 2000 Southam Inc.

At 41, the sun is setting on Scott Hamilton's career, casting a long shadow behind the diminutive figure skater.

''Yeah,'' he jokes, ''it's on life-support, but that's been pretty consistent all along.''

In town tonight as part of the ''Stars On Ice'' tour he founded 14 years ago, his has been a career that most athletes only wish for; one that went to the top and which, for a four-year period, saw him put together an indomitable string of victories. Beginning after the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic games, and running through Sarajevo in 1984 and the World Championships in Ottawa, Hamilton won 16 consecutive championships. He claimed the U.S. and World titles four times each and won Olympic gold once.

The irony is that Hamilton's career has been one that no one, in the beginning, would have given him a faint hope of achieving. Born and adopted in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1958, Hamilton stopped growing when he was five. Although the cause of his condition remains unknown, he was misdiagnosed with a variety of illnesses, including Schwachman's Syndrome, in which the body doesn't absorb food properly, and cystic fibrosis. For four years, he essentially bounced from diet to diet, city to city, living in various hospitals throughout the U.S.

At the age of nine, in response to sitting in an arena watching his sister skate, he took up the sport himself. The change in Hamilton was marked, as the symptoms of his mysterious illness began to disappear and his confidence rose. ''Skating was very beneficial on many levels,'' he recalls. ''It gave me a great level of physical activity and self-esteem.''

Fast-forward to his last year of high school, where the approaching financial burden of both figure skating and college put him in an either-or predicament. He chose school, and hung up the skates.

Figure skating, however, wasn't through with him. His strong final year of juniors caught the attention of a number of people, including one anonymous patroness from Colorado who financed his career.

His mother's death in 1977, far from derailing him, proved to be yet another seminal incident in Hamilton's life, motivating him anew. ''It lit a fire, for sure,'' he says. ''Because of everything she endured to keep me in figure skating, I felt that those sacrifices wouldn't be honoured unless I worked as hard as I possibly could.''

Hamilton's ''that-which- doesn't-kill-you-only-makes-you-stronger'' attitude came in handy later on; he was diagnosed with testicular cancer a year-and-a-half ago, and took that hardship with the same sure and even stride.

''Life is life,'' he says. ''When I was skating competitively and pushing myself harder every year and getting through slumps and injuries, that definitely (gave me) a level of determination to deal with every challenge in life. And that did help me when I was sick with cancer.

''With chemo and surgery, yeah, it was hard. But what choice did I have?''

Hamilton changed the sport of figure skating, using his celebrity to strip away as much of the tacky glitter as he could. ''(Figure skating) was getting a little bit too goofy. If you're out there in a suit of lights, I don't think that helps the sport. And, as an athlete, I wanted to present myself to everyone, not just to figure skating enthusiasts. ''

Hamilton's coach suggested he try using the same outfit used by speedskaters, instead of the beaded and feathered ones favoured at the time.

''I loved it, it was great,'' says Hamilton. ''It was comfortable and had no resistance at all. It wasn't heavy, and your body got to go anywhere it wanted.''

After retiring from competitive skating in 1984, Hamilton joined Ice Capades for a two-year stint. ''Then they were sold,'' he says, ''and the new owner didn't think that men sold tickets, so he told me to have a nice life.''

Along with backers from IMG, a sports management and marketing company, Hamilton began the Stars On Ice tour in 1986, which, with the growth in the popularity of figure skating, has also flourished. For Hamilton, however, even that success is not without its costs.

''Figure skating has been growing almost too fast,'' he concedes. ''Now people are really mercenary with the sport, and not so much custodial. They need to worry about where the sport is headed, instead of reaping the benefits of where it is now.

''I'm a little concerned. I think there's a lot of the same product on the air week after week after week after week. And after a while, people either take you for granted or get sick of it. You tend to damage your audience when you give them way too much product; they just choke on it.''

And what of Scott Hamilton? Where does his star go when it disappears beyond the horizon?

''I wouldn't be surprised if this is my last tour of Canada,'' he says. ''So this is going to be bittersweet.

''I'm not sure how long I'm going to be able to continue this pace. I'll decide after this year is over.''

Hamilton says he'd like to get involved in cancer research fund-raising and awareness programs when his skating days are over. Before that happens, he'd like to do a Broadway show on ice.

''I'd love to do that, but I've got to figure out whether I really can. If I can't skate up to the level I need to for that type of performance, especially if it's going to break ground, then I probably should develop it for someone else.''

As well as Hamilton, tonight's show features Kurt Browning, Tara Lipinski, Brian Orser, Steve Cousins, Josee Chouinard, and Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. It gets under way at the Corel Centre an 7:30 pm. There are still some $ 35 tickets available through Ticketmaster at 755-1111.