Frozen out of Olympics, Boitano shows icy resolve May ruling is unfair, gold medalist says

December 06, 1991|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Staff Correspondent

LANDOVER -- In February, at Albertville, France, they will crown the best figure skater in the world.

Trouble is, he won't be there.

Even as the Olympics opens its arms to professionals in nearly every sport, those arms are crossed obstinately across the chest in figure skating.

And so Brian Boitano will not compete in the Winter Olympics in Albertville.

"I think I would shine there," said Boitano, who won the gold medal at the 1988 Games in Calgary, Alberta.

"In my Olympic performance I did more than anyone had done in the past, and I've improved since then."

Boitano will show just how much tomorrow at the NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships at the Capital Centre (7 p.m.)

It is a competition he has dominated since 1988, and one that he has brought from the level of a pretty exhibition to new heights of artistic excellence and technical daring.

But it is his participation in this competition that prevents him from returning to the Olympics, where the next generation of figure skaters has not eclipsed him.

The International Skating Union ruled in May that, though skaters are allowed to skate in shows and television specials and make endorsements and still maintain their amateur status, they may not compete in professional competitions such as this because they are not sanctioned by the ISU as the amateur competitions are.

It was that ruling that persuaded Jill Trenary to remain an amateur. Canadian Kurt Browning, an Olympic gold-medal contender, has his own tour now. And other skaters have not had to choose between earning a living and competing in the Olympics.

Boitano is perhaps the most powerful skater in the world, but even he was not able to prevail upon the ISU to bend further for the 1992 Games.

He says he needed more support from figure skating's U.S. governing body and he did not get it.

"I think people were intimidated, afraid to put their names on the dotted line. Nobody was gutsy enough," said Boitano, who said he considered suing but realized the defendants in that suit would be his judges at the next competition.

Boitano is singular for many reasons, but what sets him apart on this issue is that he still burns to compete in the harsh technical light of amateur skating while others of his Olympic generation have moved on to explore the artistic freedom of professional skating.

"Brian [Boitano] is the best jumper ever," said Scott Hamilton, who will put his showman's style against Boitano's athleticism tomorrow night.

"He would have to be considered a contender there," said Hamilton.

Boitano feels as if he may get his chance in 1994, because the ISU will face the loss of its so-called amateurs to the professional competitions that, like this one, offer a $40,000 first prize.

NOTES: Who's here and who is not? Sorely missed will be pairs skaters Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, who have won every year since 1986 with their sizzling performances. She is a commentator for Canada's CBC Olympic telecasts. . . . Katarina Witt remains the most notable absentee. She is under exclusive contract to Jefferson-Pilot Sports. . . . This is the last appearance for Debi Thomas, who will be entering medical school in August.

Facts and figures

What: NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: Capital Centre, Landover

Who: Defending champions Brian Boitano and Denise Biellmann. Plus Caryn Kadavy, Rosalynn Sumners, Debi Thomas, Robin Cousins, Scott Hamilton and Brian Orser. Pairs Kitty and Peter Carruthers, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Cindy Landry and Peter Oppegard, Elena Valova and Oleg Vassiliev. And ice dancers Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, Natalia Annenko and Genrikh Srentenski, Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur, Susan Wynne and Joe Druar.

TV: NBC's "SportsWorld" March 15 and March 22

Tickets: $35 and $22.50. Still available.

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