Something old and wonderful brought 17,500 skating fans to their feet at Capital Centre last night at the sixth annual NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships.

The event featured top names in pro skating. And, although Scott Hamilton, Toller Cranston and Dorothy Hamill won applause, it was Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov, Olympic gold medalists way back in 1964, who produced the first magic.

The Protopopovs, in demure, 1950s-style garb, wowed the crowd early with a stunningly simple and timeless exhibition of pairs skating.

Having seen the younger pairs perform acrobatics to raucous rock 'n' roll, the crowd seemed touched by the grace of the Protopopovs, as 53-year-old Oleg gently and adoringly spun, hoisted and escorted his 50-year-old partner about the rink with the care one should accord a wife of 28 years.

The roses poured down on the ice and the applause lasted long minutes. "I love them," said George Washington University student Kristi Zimmerman, tears in her eyes.

Later, Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic men's gold medalist, brought perfection to the evening, and thoroughly modern ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean brought laughs and a grand finale.

Torvill, in a flapper dress, and Dean, dressed as a caballero, danced a spoof of a masher and his maid to a 1920s rumba. It was funny, simple and won them six perfect 10s of a possible seven from the panel of judges.

Cousins, the 1980 Olympic men's gold medalist, was graceful in the first half of the two-part performance, and perfect in the second, soft-shoeing on skates to a ragtime tune, which won him the competition's first score of seven perfect 10s.

The 20 skaters invited to this competition, which NBC taped to air on "SportsWorld" Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, were split into two teams, with Cousins and the Protopopovs heading the All-Stars and Hamilton and Torvill and Dean leading the Pro-Stars. The goal evidently is to risk no one's ego but to still have winners and a method for dividing the $210,000 prize money. For what it's worth, the All-Stars won.

The crowd did not quite fill the hall, but it came close, indicating this competition has lost none of its appeal over its six-year run.