Figure skating champion shows his mastery of the controversial turn

November 11, 1992|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

He's the rebel without a triple axel.

While other figure skaters scale greater and greater technical heights, Christopher Bowman remains the showman, preferring the glitz over the guts and the crowd's adoring applause over the judges' niggling points.

But as headliner of the Ice Capades, which comes to town tonight for nine performances, Mr. Bowman gets to indulge in the kind of stunts that would never play before the judges -- a little soft shoe here, a little tap dancing there and, most of all, an entrance in black leather astride a Harley-Davidson.

He's bad, and he knows it.

"I'm not a conformist," Mr. Bowman said in a recent interview from another of the 22 cities on the Ice Capades "Made in America" tour. "I feel it's not what you do, but how. I see skating as my own way of doing things."

Although he's a two-time national figure skating champion and two-time Olympic competitor, Mr. Bowman is at least as well-known for the gossip and controversy that seem to swirl around both his on- and off-ice life. He has fought with and changed coaches seemingly as often as laces on his skates. He has been pegged an underachiever -- the Hans Brinker from hell -- who would rather play to the cameras than put in the practice hours.

Then there are the persistent rumors of drug use -- so serious that the U.S. Figure Skating Association felt it had to acknowledge its concern over the allegations even as it noted that Mr. Bowman has passed every drug test.

"It's quite a conservative class of people. It's hard for them to digest my eccentricity," Mr. Bowman said of the skating establishment. "I'm a different kind of person."

He shrugs off the whispers and rumors as part of the price of leading such a public life. At 25, the Van Nuys, Calif., native has lived most of his life out there -- he started skating at 5 and jumped into national competition at 12, all the while acting in commercials and TV shows.

Still, for all his attraction to the cameras -- he also had a role in the movie "Lost Boys" -- Mr. Bowman remains dedicated to competition, especially the Olympics. Although he left Albertville without a medal earlier this year -- he was among the U.S. men who seemed to spend as much time falling on as soaring above the ice -- he says he's planning to compete in the next Olympics, in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994.

"That's really an incredible challenge -- to work all year for 4 1/2 minutes, as opposed to performing, where you have some breathing room," he said.

Mr. Bowman wouldn't turn down a gold medal, of course, but he says it's not his consuming desire.

"I'm not there for the materialistic value of things. I'm there to show what I can do, what I've worked for. If you're trying to get those pantyhose commercials, if that's your goal, maybe the gold is important. For me, that's not where it's at," he said.

As usual, he has other interests beyond the ice rink. He's been trying to write his autobiography. He's made a 64-minute documentary, called "Mondo Patinage," on what he calls the hidden stars of skating.

"It's like the 'Spinal Tap' of skating," he said of the film he hopes torelease next year. "I did an interview with the gay Olympic champion. It was really quite something. There are these street performers -- it was like a voyage through the underworld of skating."

But mostly, there is his own skating to be done, both in performances like the Ice Capades and the competitions.

"The biggest thing is that I've made people happy by skating," he said. "The biggest thing I've tried to emphasize is the more diverse choreography and artistry through technical ability, so you have a more complete package. I think that's a wonderful thing, and I'm proud of it."

MADE IN AMERICA'

Ice Capades, starring National Figure Skating Champion Christopher Bowman and Olympic Speed Skating Champion Cathy Turner.

When: Nine performances Nov. 11-15.

Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.

Tickets: $7.50 to $17.50. Available at the box office and all Ticketmaster outlets. To charge by phone, call (410) 481-SEAT.

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