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 be at 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.
"When I left amateur skating behind, I never looked back," said Brian Orser, who won the silver medal in 1988 and again will go against Boitano here.
"Professional skating offers a lot more opportunities to explore other avenues of skating.
"Two years ago I would have thought about it," said Orser. "Now it is way too late."
Orser disdains the Olympic competition because "whoever does the most tricks and triples wins."
Boitano does not, because he still has got plenty of triples up his sleeve. He does 10 each night he preforms his show, Chrysler Skating, '92.
"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.
"The governing bodies get a percentage whenever an amateur performs, but the amateurs aren't going to be taken anymore," said Boitano.
The 1994 Olympics are not far enough away to dim his enthusiasm for the monastic discipline of preparing every day for one three-minute program on which you have banked your reputation.
"By 1994 I think I will have fulfilled my professional life. I will miss the thrill of live performance, but I will be ready."
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 and could not schedule this event.
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.