Olympic time waits for no one LILLEHAMMER '94


HAMAR, Norway -- Welcome to the Rink of Dreams. If you build it, they will come. Welcome to the very temporary home of the world's greatest collection of masters figure skaters.

Back from the mists come the hallowed names from those distant days of the eighties, when yuppies were young: Torvill and Dean, Witt and Boitano.

But the Old Boys and the Old Girls are finding it not so easy to waltz back into the Olympic movement and collect the medals and the standing ovations that used to belong to them.

Brian Boitano was honest, after finishing sixth on Saturday night behind other Old Boys, Viktor Petrenko and Kurt Browning. "There's a little lack of hunger," Boitano confessed. "The younger kids have it. Once you lose it, you don't get it back."

Six weeks ago at the nationals I said his new name should be Wan Boitano, and he admitted Saturday that his competitive drive was shot. That's why the best soldiers are 19. Their knees are good and their memories are blank. They don't ask questions.

It may have been flattering to have the International Figure Skating Association grant a one-time return to snow-white, squeaky-clean card-carrying amateurism, as we know it today. (And what a nice thing it was to do for CBS, which just happened to dump 16 tons of kroner on these Winter Games.)

But Boitano and the other Old Boys were reminded that Olympic judges still expect you to hit a triple jump, particularly if you are a male. And if you stumble coming out of a difficult combination jump in the Winter Games, you cannot just wink at the judges as if to say, "Hey, it's Hamar on a Saturday night, and I just got off a plane from L.A., so give me a break."

Some of the Old Boys and the Old Girls are relatively charming and mature, as well they should be. For that matter, I'd rather watch Manuel Orantes and Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors and even Old Gray Junior McEnroe play masters tennis than the young dudes. But in real competition, the young dudes are better.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, now tied for first after a rousing performance and near-perfect scores last night, may yet cop a gold medal in the final round of the dance pairs tonight. But it will be partly because a decade ago they were the most innovative competitive dance pair the world has yet seen.

I bet there are baseball pitchers who will not throw a pitch under Michael Jordan's chin because he's Michael Jordan, and I bet there are judges in this arena who don't want to admit that Torvill and Dean are grandly theatrical, but 36 and 35, respectively, and haven't had to practice their compulsory figures in a decade. Doc Gooden could throw heat in 1984, too.

On Wednesday Katerina Witt makes her Olympic comeback after six years as a professional. She will not be totally overlooked even with this Tonya-Nancy mania, even if some other really good skater slips away with the gold in the confusion. I will give a report on Witt, I promise.

On Saturday night, Witt talked to her once-and-future touring partner, Boitano, after his latest swan song. She looks sensational, on and off the ice, and Sunday she chatted up a group of Anglophone journalists, giving the emphatic message that she is not in Norway for a medal.

"The other Olympics, I really wanted to win a gold medal," said Witt, who won in 1984 and 1988. "Here I just want to be part of the Olympics. Being here is a dream come true."

But deep down, doesn't Witt think she can sneak a medal here? "It sounds like the Olympics have their own rules," she said. "One-tenth of a second decides what place you're in." No, she said, deep down she expects no medal, just a chance to perform in the Olympics. I believed her. I would have believed anything she said.

But maybe the most honest skater was Kurt Browning, the venerable Canadian, who said he was going right back to the lucrative world of ice shows and television spectaculars and competitions heavy on style and tolerant of stumbles.

When asked what he would like best about his return to good old blatant professionalism, Browning replied: "No more five-minute warm-ups. And a standing ovation every night." Bravo, Browning.

The definition of contemporary amateurism was supplied by Canadian Lloyd Eisler, who complained that as an Olympic-level skater, he isn't making a lot of money "I can put my hands on."

Eisler was miffed because Yekaterina Gordeyeva, an ancient 22, and Sergei Grinkov, a prehistoric 27, came back from their gold medal at the Jurassic Park Games in 1988 to win another gold medal in Norway.

This hurt the development of raw kids like Eisler, age 30, and his partner, Isabel Brasseur, a mere child of 23, who had to settle for the bronze. Nobody had any sympathy for Eisler's whining, but he did make his point that once skaters turned professional, they ought to stay professional.

Silly him. I can hardly see what kind of one-time waiver they come up with in 1998. But at least the Old Boys and Old Girls are learning that nothing is automatic.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad