The icy arena of professional figure skating is a cold, cold world indeed. Promoters hire you and fans pay money to see you usually only if you mined Olympic precious metal as an amateur.
Professional skaters can pay the bills if paying their dues as youngsters paid off in the big competitions in front of the right TV cameras. Folks come to ice shows to see the famous ones who dazzled their imagination and confounded their more pedestrian notions of gravity.
Amateur standing also has been an intrusive factor in a place where it shouldn't: professional competition. In the past few years, the skaters have been disappointed with the judging at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships, which come to Capital Centre tonight at 7. They say privately that amateur standing influences professional order of finish.
"Your afterlife as a skater depends totally on your life before as an amateur and everything else you do is dependent on what happens here," said Elizabeth Manley, who beat Debi Thomas for the 1988 Olympic silver medal in Calgary and is making her debut in this competition.
She has been a major draw in the Ice Capades in her native Canada, enticing record crowds each of the three years she's been performing. Her popularity has spawned TV variety shows, movies, singing.
"And that's been my concern, the judging," she said. "The talk the last few years has been how this competition's been judged. That's my fear coming into this event because of that. Ice Capades has made me a star and that could jeopardize all that I've built."
Last year, Denise Biellmann, a Swiss, European and world champion, as well as Olympic freestyle gold medalist, awed the crowd with a physically daring, artistically seductive routine. A visibly fatigued Thomas, who flew in that day amid pre-med finals at Stanford, gave an adequate performance. She won, and many think it was because of her amateur accomplishments.
Organizer Dick Button said history influencing judges is a theory. "You'll have to look at the record on that," he said. "The test here will be Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, the world champions and winners in the last Olympic Games. That will test that theory. My feeling about the judging is that 99 times out of 100, the best skater wins."
This year, for the first time, the judges at tonight's competition will be members of the International Professional Skater's Union and will govern by union rules.
Biellmann agreed that "the judging has not been great. Sometimes for me, like last year, it didn't work good for me. It seems like the best amateur wins. But I don't want to talk bad about it. But it feels for me always strange, how they see it. I don't know how it works.
"Now, what I think about when I skate is more of the audience and to please myself, otherwise I would not come. If I think only about places and judging, I'll not skate well."
Manley said she will take the same approach.
"I just want to skate great, like the Olympics, and I think people remember the performance they think should have won more than the one that did," she said. "Of course I'm looking for number one but it's more important I skate well and entertain the audience, that's what I've learned as a professional."