Speed queen ices hockey hunk Turner bests Iafrate in battle of blades

February 09, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

In one corner was Al Iafrate, hockey player, fourth-fastest skater in the NHL, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, goes by the nickname of "Wild Thing," shoulder-length brown hair with a bald spot larger than the Montreal Forum, rides a Harley and relaxes after games by lighting up a cigarette with a blowtorch.

In the other corner was Cathy Turner, short-track speed skater, 1992 Winter Olympic gold medalist, 5 feet 3, 130 pounds, a former lounge singer who wrote the song "Sexy, Kinky Tomboy," blond hair shaved on the sides, favorite mode of transportation unknown, doesn't smoke.

Yesterday, the hockey player and the speed skater glided to the red line, met, shook hands, kissed even, and raced three laps around the Piney Orchard Ice Rink.

It was no contest.

Turner won. Iafrate lost.

The macho world of hockey took one on the chin.

"Oh, she's awesome," said Iafrate, the Washington Capitals defenseman and NHL All-Star. "It wasn't even close."

Turner, timed in 30.5 seconds, took away a gold medal, a bouquet of roses, a Capitals sweat shirt and Iafrate's jersey.

Iafrate, no time recorded, got a medal and a lot of harassment from his teammates.

"We're going to fine him," said Kevin Hatcher, the Capitals' new team captain. "He's going to have to take the whole team out to dinner."

This "Battle of the Sexes" didn't have the impact of a Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match. After all, it was just a little exhibition to boost ticket sales for the Ice Capades, which stars Turner, at the Capital Centre for a week.

Fact is, early yesterday morning, Turner didn't know who she would be racing against.

"I kept getting messages that I was going to skate against some guy named La Freight," she said.

But Turner showed up at high noon in a blue, orange and white Lycra racing suit, sharpened the 16-inch blades of her speed skates, set the course, even placed some cushions along the boards in the corners, and waited for La Freight, or whatever his name was, to show.

Iafrate got to the rink on time and then put on his full gear, right down to carrying his hockey stick.

"I need the balance," he said. "Can't skate without the stick."

A crowd of 150 lunch-hour spectators, a dozen reporters and four mini-cam crews showed up, too.

Iafrate's bosses and teammates even offered him some advice. But once they got one look at Turner whipping through the corners during a workout, they began to make preparations for a defeat.

"There is nothing fair or equal about the race," Capitals general manager David Poile said. "Different skates. Different equipment. And we don't use cushions. We use real boards."

Dale Hunter was asked about Iafrate's chances of winning.

Hunter pondered the question, started to answer, and then simply shook his head from side to side -- hockey talk for "no way."

"I think the guys are betting against me," Iafrate said. "All the power to her if she wins. If I win, I'll be proud."

Pride vanished.

Mercifully, the race was brief. Turner beat Iafrate to the first turn and won by a half-lap.

As Turner took her victory lap, Iafrate gasped for air.

"During the race, I felt like stopping and waiting, but I thought, 'Oh, that would make him look really bad,' " Turner said. "It was a real race."

Iafrate figures he'll have some explaining to do around the NHL.

Tough guy. Couldn't even out-skate a woman.

"She's a world champion," he said. "It's not going to be hard to explain."

Is Turner ready for the NHL?

"Well, we know she can skate fast," said Capitals goaltender Don Beaupre. "But can she take a hit?"

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