One year ago this week, Scott Hamilton skated off a patch of Yugoslavian ice with an Olympic gold medal around his neck, the high point of an amateur figure skating career that included four world championships. It also was, if tradition held true, a guaranteed ticket to a gold-inlaid career as a commercial spokesman.
So why haven't we seen him during the last 12 months smiling from a box of Wheaties, selling soft drinks that get America going or mouthwash to keep it kissably sweet?
Why isn't an Olympic hero who is boyishly handsome, bright, articulate and eager to please being paid to tell the public what products gave him the winning edge?
"I don't know," says Hamilton, who is willing to rent his gold medal image for the right price. "I just don't know."
He is not exactly scrounging for lunch money. As headliner for the Ice Capades, which began an 11-day run at Capital Centre Tuesday night, he earns a six-figure salary and standing ovations. But the rewards that have been offered to other Olympic champions, most recently gymnast Mary Lou Retton, have not materialized for him or any of his Winter Olympic teammates.
Not one athlete from the 1984 U.S. Winter Olympic team, one of the most successful in this country's history, has made the transition from sports to national commercials. That very lucrative perch, previously held by Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill and Jim Craig, to name a few, has remained unoccupied this time around.
"I would have thought after what we did in the Olympics, they would have been heavily sought after," says Ian Anderson, an official with the U.S. Figure Skating Association. "They should be."
Agents who represent athletes say the absence of recent winter Olympians in America's national marketplace is unfortunate but not totally surprising. Because the Winter Olympics are not nearly as popular as the Summer Games, they create fewer slots for emerging stars. Last year, the candidates for those slots either missed the gold or did not fit the mold that advertisers want.
"With the Winter Olympics, you're shooting for a much smaller target . . . and it's a lot tougher to hit," says Art Kaminsky, a New York sports agent who says he represents more Olympic gold medalists than any other agent. "It's a question of timing. It's a question of drama."
In figure skating, for example, the slot is traditionally "reserved for a female starlet," says David Falk, a vice president of ProServ, whose clients include Summer Olympians such as Michael Jordan. America's starlet, Rosalynn Sumners, won silver, not gold. For former world champion Elaine Zayak, who did not win a medal in Sarajevo, the opportunities have been particularly thin. Since the Olympics, she has appeared in a commercial promoting tourism for her home state of New Jersey and endorsed an antihistamine in a medical journal.
"They want you to do it for nothing," complained Zayak, who also will be performing here in the Ice Capades. "They say, 'We can get a lot of other people who will do this.' They're right. But you can't sell yourself short either."
The Mahre brothers, Phil and Steve, were a precious metals market for America during their amateur skiing careers. But the same qualities that make them so likable -- their modest disregard for glory, their small town virtues and their comfortable, square-jawed looks -- did little to excite advertisers looking for a certain quotient of sex appeal. Besides, the Mahres made it clear they were not interested in the glitter that Madison Avenue was offering.
Bill Johnson, 24, made it equally clear that he was. Asked what winning the gold medal in downhill skiing at Sarajevo meant, he said: "Millions. We're talking millions." He has the blond good looks and brash sex appeal that sells in this country. But, like Carl Lewis, his personality has worked against him.
"We don't mind if our heroes make money," one New York sports agent said, "but we don't want them to talk about it."
Johnson, who still is an amateur, has made considerable money since the Olymnpics. He bought a house in Malibu for $250,000, an Audi, a Porsche and a 15-unit apartment building in Oregon for his mother.
"Am I a millionaire?" he mused to Sports Illustrated in November. "Maybe not, but I'll be a millionaire soon. That's inevitable."
But his endorsements have been limited mostly to the ski industry. He has not made the crossover into the much greater and more lucrative general merchandise market.
"Someone could do something with Johnson," ProServ's Joe Steranka says, wistfully. "He's got personality. He's got charisma. He's got a lot of things going for him." Sterenka thinks a bit of well-publicized charitable work would go a long way toward countering the negative feelings Johnson has created. With a made-for-television movie on Johnson's life in the works, there still is time for him to cash in.
Five years ago, the U.S. hockey team created a sports legend, as well as some individual media stars, by upsetting the Soviets at Lake Placid and winning a gold medal. Coach Herb Brooks, Mike Eruzione and Craig jumped directly from that national euphoria into prime-time advertising roles.
Last February, the U.S. hockey team lost everything but its sticks in Yugoslavia, finishing seventh. The months since have proved that America isn't particularly interested in sales pitches from the losing locker room.
A dozen players from that 20-member squad made NHL teams this season. One of them, Montreal's Chris Chelios, was picked for the recent All-Star Game. But only Pat LaFontaine, a charismatic center for the New York Islanders, has commercial contracts, and those have been limited to the New York market.
"We're actively working on several deals that would involve Pat on a national basis," says his agent, Don Meehan. "I don't think anybody else on that team has even a sniff at that kind of exposure. And that is because they didn't win."
Hamilton won everything there was to win during his competitive career. He did it with individual style ("No sequins, please") and a determined athleticism. He also has a personal history that would seem rife for commercial exploitation. A sickly child, he overcame the mysterious illness that stunted his growth for four years to become a sports hero.
But a male figure skater, particularly one who stands 5 feet 3, apparently is not what Madison Avenue wants for its big sell.
"Right now I'm just concentrating on the skating," said Hamilton, during a visit this week with a 10-year-old quadriplegic at Children's Hospital. "I'm working my butt off. I want to get better every year. And I'm gonna be skating a long time."