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  With Judges Away, Skaters Play

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 16, 1994; Page G1




Elvis skated to Elvis. Oksana Baiul sneaked out from backstage to watch Philippe Candeloro take his shirt off on the ice. And Nancy Kerrigan hammed it up for some camera-wielding stagehands backstage, posing inside a large, empty golden portrait frame she held in her hands.

The Olympics are over and the figure skaters are on spring break. Thirty-two skaters with impeccable resumes have just started their 59-city, 70-show Campbell's Soups 1994 Tour of World Figure Skating Champions, which stopped at USAir Arena for two shows last night and tonight.

Although they said they take their work on the ice seriously, the fact is there was a lot of time to play. Even while the show was going on.

Baiul, who won the gold medal in women's figure skating seven weeks ago at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Hamar, Norway, wildly flailed away in a table tennis match with Aleksei Urmanov, the men's gold medalist.

Nearby, two-time U.S. national champion Scott Davis was riding an exercise bicycle, part of a set of sports equipment that follows the tour wherever it goes. And almost every skater was stretching and jumping and walking around, trying to stay loose in the long breaks between skating.

"It's a little more relaxed," said Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist. "It's still a lot of pressure but in a different way. It's more for the fans. It's easier to please them than to please the judges. They're up for a night out. They want to be entertained."

The differences between Olympic competition and tour performances are obvious. For one, there are no judges. There also can be lyrics to the music, backflips and other moves that are illegal in real competition and spotlights in a darkened auditorium that follow the skaters' spins and jumps.

And there were jumps, triples by Boitano and Elvis Stojko, Kerrigan and Baiul, among others. It's a competition, albeit friendly. But there were the other skaters -- Baiul watching Kerrigan, for instance -- gathered in a tunnel to check out their rivals and friends.

"You can't ever really let your hair down in America," Boitano said. "The fans really expect a lot from their people. You can't take it lightly. You have to be a competent professional."

"The crowd is really excited. We all know that," said U.S. pairs skater Todd Sand. "They paid good money to see us. You feel a responsibility to them."

"To think there's 18,000 people watching me at one moment. It's really kind of intimidating," Boitano said. "It's easier to think about nine people [the judges]."

Figure skating has never been more popular in the wake of the bizarre saga of Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, who was not invited to participate in the tour even before she pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the attack on her rival.

In many ways, last night's show was like a rock concert; with teenage spectators squealing with delight at Stojko, Candeloro and 1992 Olympic gold medalist Viktor Petrenko. The camera flash count went off the charts when Kerrigan first appeared on the ice. Encores were performed by the most famous of the group.

The skaters did many things they wanted to do in the Olympics but couldn't: backflips galore, Candeloro taking off his shirt, Boitano skating with a chair as a prop.

"It's kind of nice after a whole year of training," said Sand, who got engaged to partner Jenni Meno at the Olympics.

On a sad note, Boitano spoke about the death of 1976 Olympic gold medalist John Curry, who died of complications due to AIDS.

"He made a distinct impression on me as a young skater watching on television," Boitano said. "He had the performance of his life at the Olympics. It was awesome."

Curry's death means both the 1972 and 1976 men's Olympic gold medalists have succumbed to AIDS. Ondrej Nepela of Czechoslovakia died from complications of the disease at age 38 several years ago.

Canadian Rob McCall, who won a bronze medal in 1988 in ice dancing, also died from the disease.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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