Scott Hamilton is one of this country's oldest and most appreciated figure skaters. And he has a wonderfully developed sense of humor.
When asked what he is skating for at his age, a question that pops up in nearly every interview he does, Hamilton lets laughter into his voice.
"I'd like to be a shining light of hope for every short, bald man in America," said Hamilton, who measures 5 feet 3. "There is no getting around that I'm short and that my hair is falling out every day. I'm not going to get a wig, and I'm not going to get hair plugs.
"I'd just as soon be the way I am. I'm meant to be short and bald. I'd rather be 6 feet tall with hair down to my waist, but one Fabio is plenty."
When Hamilton is on the ice, as he will be tonight at the Baltimore Arena in the Discover Card Stars On Ice show, no one notices his height, his age or his hairstyle.
All they see is his artistry.
Hamilton has won three competitions this year, including the Gold Challenge in Edmonton, Alberta, where he out-skated Brian Boitano and Viktor Petrenko.
"It was the best I've skated in 15 years," Hamilton said. "It was a rush for me to win. And I believe, at age 36, I'm still at the level I was in the Olympics or perhaps better. I'm actually executing the triple flip now. At the Olympics, I singled."
The Stars on Ice show is his creation. He started it in 1986, after starring in Ice Capades. Hamilton said he wanted more of a professional figure skating tour than "a factory production."
"We're constantly creating new looks and styles," said Hamilton, whose 48-city tour began in Lake Placid, N.Y., Nov. 26 and ends in Amherst, Mass., April 1.
The Baltimore event is the third stop, and, as such, promises the excitement of a new production.
"It ranges from classical to contemporary and incorporates a lot of beauty and theatrics," he said. "It's put together with the thought of giving the audience a wild ride. It's not put together with the thought of what I like or what I want. It's what's entertaining for the audience. What would create an adrenalin rush for them?
L "I'd like them to feel that I'm there for them, not for me."
Hamilton came into America's sports consciousness in 1981, when he won the first of eight combined consecutive national and world titles. In the midst of that run, he also captured the 1984 Olympic gold medal in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and at that point was the first American man to win the gold in 24 years.
But it wasn't exactly a smooth sleigh ride to fame and fortune.
At 2, he developed a mysterious illness that caused him to stop growing. For six years, no one could figure out what was wrong. Once, his condition mistakenly was diagnosed as cystic fibrosis, and he was given six months to live.
At 8, he was strong enough to try ice skating with his older sister Susan. Within a year of beginning skating lessons and joining a youth hockey team, he again began to grow and his illness disappeared.
"I think being small has meant less stress on my bones and joints and helped me to prevent the major knee injuries and cartilage injuries that have shortened the careers of some others," he said. "And my size is also reflected in my ability to adjust to certain problems in the air."
Hamilton receives big cheers during introductions and notes that the crowds are still cheering when he's finished his program.
"When they're cheering loudly at the start and only clapping politely when I'm finished," he said, "then it will be time to think about retiring."
STARS ON ICE
Where: Baltimore Arena
When: Tonight, 7:30
What: Third stop on the 48-city tour of Olympic and world champion figure skaters featuring Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, Katarina Witt, Paul Wylie, Rosalynn Sumners, Kurt Browning and the pairs team of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.
Tickets: Available at $35 and $22.50 at Ticketmaster outlets or by calling (410) 481-SEAT.
Benefits: Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and Discover Card Youth Programs.