Fleming's comeback brings back elegant style, grace

May 03, 1991|By Bill Glauber

In this year of sporting comebacks, ranging from the sublime (Jim Palmer) to the ridiculous (Bjorn Borg), from the improbable (Mark Spitz) to the inspirational (George Foreman), comes another tale of an athlete reappearing decades past her competitive prime.

But really, does it matter that Peggy Fleming is 42 years old? Figure skaters don't grow old -- they grow more graceful.

For the first time in four years, Fleming will perform in the 1991 Tour of World Figure Skating Champions, which kicks off its 31-city tour with performances tonight at the Baltimore Arena and tomorrow night at the Capital Centre in Landover.

Others, like world champion Kristi Yamaguchi and American men's champion Todd Eldredge, will uncork the leaps that have turned modern skating into a triple-jump spectacle. Fleming, all dressed up in white, will provide a shining example of the elegance and simplicity of the sport.

"My style of skating is a very natural for me," Fleming said DTC between rehearsals yesterday. "It just flows together really easily."

Fleming glided into American living rooms in the 1960s, the first heroine on ice in the television age. She provided an enchanting interlude in 1968, wearing a lime green dress that was hand sewn by her mother, and gliding to the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.

Fleming returned home, skated the show circuit, married her high school sweetheart and became a commentator for ABC-TV sports. It was a happily-ever-after fairy tale that continues to charm her fans.

"I think it was emotional for the country and for American skating be back on top again, and I was the first one of the era to come on top," Fleming said. "That all adds to how people feel about me. I came from a simple background, and a lot of people could relate to that. I wasn't from a privileged background. I struggled and skated for myself, worked hard and achieved it. That's a story an every-day person can relate to."

Fleming and her husband, Greg Jenkins, a dermatologist, have been married 21 years and live in Los Gatos, Calif. They have two children, Andy, 14, and Todd, 2. Her interest in skating was rekindled last July when she received a call from tour promoter Tom Collins.

"I was about to go on an African safari with my son Andy and four of my friends, and Tom called and asked if I would do another tour," she said. "I told him I'd think about it. When I got home, I decided to do it. To be able to go out and perform is a fantasy. It's wonderful to work with the designers and the choreographers."

Fleming began preparing for the tour this past winter, and was pleasantly surprised that her skating moves came back quickly.

"It has been almost fun," she said. "The first few times on the ice, getting your sea legs back, that was rough. But the endurance was there. Getting used to spinning around and ballet extensions, that was tough. I don't do that in normal life."

Fleming isn't intimidated by the triple-jumping teen-agers who will perform with her on this tour. She has a distinctive, balletic style, one that appeals to all segments of an audience.

"People don't remember me jumping around in the first place," she said. "Why should I be any different now?

"Skating is the kind of sport where there is no one set style or one set way. Everyone brings to the table their own unique look and gift. If we look at all of our female amateurs today, they're all very different. They do the triples in different ways. They have different presentations. If everyone looked like clones, they wouldn't be very interesting."

There is only one Peggy Fleming, America's original skating sweetheart. She is 42, but remains 19 forever.

1991 Tour of World Figure Skating Champions

Dates: Baltimore Arena (tonight at 8), Capital Centre (tomorrow night at 8).

Tickets: Baltimore Arena ($40, $22, $20). Capital Centre ($35, 22.50).

Performers: Women's singles -- Nancy Kerrigan, Jill Trenary, Peggy Fleming, Kristi Yamaguchi. Men's singles -- Mark Mitchell, Todd Eldredge, Christopher Bowman, Brian Orser, Gary Beacom, Viktor Petrenko. Pairs & Dance -- Susan Wynne-Joseph Druar; Elena Bechke-Dennis Petrov; Isabelle Brasseur-Lloyd Eisler; Maya Usova-Alexander Vhulin; Elena Valova-Oleg Vasiliev; Marina Klimova-Sergei Ponomarenko; Natalia Meshkutenok-Arthur Dmitriev; Barbara Underhill-Paul Martini; Natalia Bestemianova-Andrei Bukin; Ekaterina Gordeeva-Sergei Grinkov.

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