Twenty-four of ice skating's most sequined stars will compete tonight at Capital Centre for more than $200,000 in the World Professional Figure Skating Championships.
Scott Hamilton, Rosalynn Sumners, Kitty and Peter Carruthers and Britain's second most famous couple, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, are among medalists from the 1984 Winter Olympics who will compete in the sold-out event that begins at 7 o'clock. Dorothy Hamill, Linda Fratianne, Charlie Tickner and the ill-fated partners Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner will represent Olympics past.
Most have been recruited from professional ice shows, for which they currently perform, to compete in this fifth annual championship invented by Dick Button, a former Olympic medalist now working as a television commentator.
The format of this made-for-television event, which NBC will air on three shows early next year, teams the most recent Olympians against the team of veterans. There also will be individual competition, a concept that some skaters don't much like.
"Some of them hate it," said Button, clenching a cigar between his teeth while skaters practiced the show's choreographed introduction yesterday. "But they're here."
Button makes a special point of emphasizing competitive aspects of this show. There will be no Smurfs on ice or giant mice skating through his championship. Rich and famous as these skaters have become, Button insists they still respond to competition, before a set of judges, with fire in their bellies.
"I think every one of these skaters will tell you that they don't care about the competitive part," he said. "The underlying fact is they do care. They have enormous pride."
One competitor who needs no prompting to admit he has sharpened his skates is Scott Hamilton, the gold medalist in the Winter Games at Sarajevo. As a headliner with the Ice Capades, Hamilton still gets applause but misses the emotional peaks that always pushed him to a point somewhere between exhilaration and exhaustion.
"I really loved the struggle and everything that went with it," said the 5-foot-3 skater, who has never beaten gravity but regularly seems ready to. "I enjoy going head to head. When I'm in a competition, I'm an athlete. When I'm in an ice show, I'm an entertainer."
From September 1980 until the World Championships this year, Hamilton, 25, dominated his sport, winning 19 consecutive championships, four of them world titles.
But his standards always were higher than any judge's. Nine months ago, with an Olympic gold medal around his neck, Hamilton apologized in Sarajevo for beating the world's best figure skaters with less than his best.
"I wanted it to be a memorable performance," he said, caressing his medal with both hands. "I have something to prove."
Yesterday at Capital Centre, the latest ice stop on his professional show biz express, Hamilton paused while lacing his ice skates, flashed a smile as bright as a burning yule log and admitted he was wrong.
"Everywhere I go people have been real positive," he said. "I won the gold. They don't care if I was happy about it."
Hamilton, Fratianne, Hamill and a dozen other skaters will remain in town after the show for an exhibition at Capital Centre at 7 p.m. Sunday. That show is being taped by HBO for airing at a later date.