Back in 1968, when most of the skaters who gathered at Capital Centre last night for the NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships were not long out of diapers, Terry Topeka tried a backflip in Olympic competition and was actually downgraded because of it.

Last night, before 13,401, it was the athletics and acrobatics that elicited the oohs and aahs during the first round. But it was pure figure skating, with all its interpretive drama and emotion-rendering moves that brought the crowd to its feet later on.

Paul Martini and Barbara Underhill, the 1984 world champions and defending professional pairs champions, earned the first score of 10 in the evening, when, dressed in matching body suits and looking more like speed skaters than figure skaters, they leapt and threw themselves to a score of 49.5 points out of a possible 50 in the technical portion.

Martini lifted Underhill above his head and spun her three times before flipping her back to the ice. He again threw her into a double twist then, for a closing, held her above him in a handstand.

Kitty and Peter Carruthers, brother and sister, followed with more of the same.

But it was later, in the artistic portion of the competition that graceful choreography won the bonus points.

To the tune of "On My Own" from "Les Miserables", Martini and Underhill performed well enough to earn the first standing ovation of the evening. They also won the first perfect score of 50, winning the pairs competition by a tenth of a point over the Carruthers.

Professional figure skating, called "the life after" by one skater, is unfettered by the rules and regulations governing amateur skating. "They're much more lenient," said one official. Thus, the skaters are free to experiment and originate.

"It's pure technique in competition {amateur}. You're always thinking about landing that jump," said Dorothy Hamill after winning the women's individual competition. "Here, we're pleasing people instead of judges."

The men, however, still had an athletic look to their performances. Appearing as if they were trying to one-up each other in the technical portion, 1980 Olympic gold medalist Robin Cousins, 1984 Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton and Norbert Schramm of West Germany included backflips in their routines. Schramm did three in a row, likely tiring himself for the rest of his number and getting the lowest score, 48.2, of the four men.

Hamilton won the technical portion, 49.7 to Cousins' 49.1. But Cousins, the 1985 professional champion who finished second to Hamilton last year, twisted and jumped in a stunning artistic number. He earned a perfect 50. Hamilton scored 49.6 for his artistic number, where he mimicked a clown, and finished second, even though their overall scores were the same. Artistic scoring outweighs technical scoring overall.

Tiffany Chin finished tied for third in the four-competitor women's individual competition with a score of 97.4. Elaine Zayak was second with 97.5 and Rosalyn Sumners tied Chin at 97.4