Brighter spotlight

Thirty-one years ago this month, Dorothy Hamill felt the weight of Olympic gold around her neck as she stood on the podium in Innsbruck, Austria.

Her mind raced. Her emotions soared. Silently, she gave thanks to her parents, her coaches and her teammates.

The attention was overwhelming to a young woman of 19, just two years older than world and national champion Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air, who will compete this week at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, one of the premier events leading up to the world championships.

Today, Hamill can't imagine the pressure on the new generation of skaters, and, she insisted, she wouldn't want it.

"No, no," Hamill said, shaking her head. "The pressure on the kids is just so much more now, with all the media attention. There were three channels back in the '70s. Now there's cable news and the Internet, and I just don't know that I could do it."

Since her sixth-place finish at the Olympics last year and her surprising win at worlds, Meiss- ner seemingly has been everywhere and dabbled in everything. The Fallston High School senior recently signed her first national endorsements and will be featured in two ice shows.

But Hamill, who lives in Baltimore and follows Meissner's skating career and charitable work, doesn't begrudge today's top skaters any of the attention.

"That's not why we did it. When those things happened after I won the Olympics, it was complete and total surprise. It was exciting," she said. "Now, they kind of all know that's going to happen, and it's appealing to a lot of the skaters.

"The kids today are more prepared than we were. I think Kimmie could probably give me some advice," Hamill said, laughing. "She probably has done as much in her short time as world and now national champion as I have."

Hamill is as modest as her career was dazzling, especially in 1976, when everything she touched turned to gold.

She won the last of her three U.S. titles in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Four Continents is being held.

Weeks later, she earned a perfect 6.0 mark for artistic presentation during her short program in Innsbruck and then scooped up Olympic gold with a winning long program on Friday the 13th.

"It was good luck for me, and I'm superstitious," she said, smiling.

After twice winning the silver medal at worlds, Hamill took the top spot on the podium later in the year - the medal that means the most to her. Inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1991, she was added to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame nine years later.

Hamill, 50, has lived in Baltimore for a decade. She didn't tour this year so she could devote more time to her daughter, Alexandra, a high school senior. On Saturday, she signed autographs and posed for pictures at Mount Pleasant Ice Arena, her home rink, to support National Skating Month.

Hamill would love to perform a holiday show in Baltimore sometime soon.

"As long as I've lived here, I've never performed here," Hamill said.

Skating today is in transition, both in its stars and the way it chooses them.

Missing but not yet retired are Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Russia's Irina Slutskaya. Meiss- ner, Japan's Mao Asada and South Korea's Kim Yu Na - teen sensations but hardly household names - are the ones to watch at next month's world championships.

The old 6.0 system, the one by which Hamill, Linda Fratianne and Kwan were judged, has been gone for more than two years. In its place is a judging system that is supposed to reduce the risk of the tampering and score swapping that marred the 2002 Olympics.

Hamill has been slow to warm to the new system, which puts a premium on completing a checklist of jumps, spins and spirals. Skaters and coaches call it "filling the boxes," and many complain that there's too much crammed into less than five minutes.

"I think everyone is still trying to figure it out," Hamill said. "There are favorites who I watch now. There is a lot I really don't love.

"One of the things I really miss about some of the skating is those great, big sweeping edges. I love the spins and I love the jumps, but sometimes I just want to go, 'Ahhhh, isn't that beautiful.' That's the contrast. That's what adds the texture and depth to it."

Hamill thinks Meissner will continue to improve.

"Kimmie is a true champion on and off the ice. She's such a great role model for girls and skating in general. She's a lovely young lady and a beautiful skater," Hamill said.

"Now that she's No. 1, everybody's going to be on her heels trying to dethrone her. She just has to keep it up and remember that when she has those bad days, we all do."
>>> Four Continents Championships Today through Saturday, Colorado Springs, Colo. TV: ESPN, Feb. 18, 8 p.m.-11:30 p.m.


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