Young skaters undaunted by Kerrigan-Harding case

January 21, 1994|By Scott Timberg | Scott Timberg,Staff Writer

Outside, snow, sleet and freezing rain have slowed Baltimore down -- but inside, at Northwest Family Sports Center Ice Rink, the pace is brisk as skaters whirl around the ice.

Their enthusiasm is not diminished by recent negative publicity surrounding an attack on Olympic figure-skater Nancy Kerrigan. Four people have been charged, including the husband and bodyguard of Tonya Harding, also an Olympic competitor.

One of Baltimore's hottest young skaters is Scott Smith, a regular at Northwest. The 12-year-old recently placed first in the South Atlantic regional competition.

Scott says most of his competitors are serious about the sport, "but they're generally nice." Despite the Kerrigan case, most skaters congratulate each other upon victory, console upon defeat. "Everybody's had their bad day and their good day, so they know it both ways," Scott says.

Jan Smith, Scott's mother, says she sometimes has mixed feelings about the sport, due to the enormous investments of hTC time and money, and the lure of commercialism and cash prizes that can make even a good-hearted skater greedy and self-promoting. But so far her son's enthusiasm has made it worth the family's sacrifices.

"If you could find a way to give your son discipline, self-esteem, physical exercise, keep him off the streets, and all those other things, would you give it up?" she asks.

"That's what I say at 5 in the morning."

"I like the speed and posture of skating," says Scott, a wiry,

assured sixth-grader with tousled blond hair. He also enjoys jumping -- he loves the double axel and has now mastered the more-difficult triple toe loop.

And he likes competing. "I like doing stuff under pressure, concentrating and knowing that you have to do it now."

Scott skates five times a week, going to Northwest two days a week before his classes at Friends School.

Mrs. Smith says Scott practices as much on land as he does on the ice. "We have no grass in the yard; the rug is worn out," she says.

Scott discovered skating five years ago at a party. He quickly moved from group lessons to private lessons and non-stop practice. He owns videotapes of all the Olympic skating matches, world and national championships recorded since 1980, and watches them to improve his own form and follow the field.

"The sport's changed so much . . ." since the early '80s, Scott says. "Everything they do is better, and plus they do more difficult things. It'll be interesting to see where it goes in the next 20 years."

Ingrid Goldberg, 10, a skater from Baltimore County, says the key to being a good competitor is being in the sport for individual reasons.

"Some parents push -- my parents don't," explains the fourth-grader. "If I, like, gagged that morning, they won't say, 'You have to go because I paid for it,' or 'You owe me $10.' Some parents are really more into it than their kids are. Because I want to, is why I do it. I'd end up enjoying it less if they forced me."

Does Ingrid dream of stardom? "Every little kid who goes to all of these little competitions is always dreaming of the Olympics. But it's one out of a million. It depends."

Ingrid doesn't see the Kerrigan case as typical. "It barely ever happens -- it happens every 15 competitions or so. I've heard of -- heard, it's never happened to me -- of stealing tape, or ripping dresses."

Some kids are snobs, she says. "Some people are, how do I put this, walking with their noses up in the air. Most of us are like friends, even if we don't know each other. Two out of 10, maybe one out of 10, have a really bad attitude. But the other nine or eight are really nice. They may not talk a lot, but they're really nice."

Ingrid says she feels sorry for Ms. Kerrigan, whom she met while training at Cape Cod last summer. "Nancy has the best attitude ever. I remember her saying, 'It's not what other people do, it's what I do.' And when she's not skating, she's just a regular old person."

Denise Cahill, a local coach who once worked with Ms. Kerrigan in Boston, points out competition is part of the sport but should be carefully monitored. "That's part of your job too, to make sure it's healthy."

Skating has enjoyed increased national attention since the U.S. domination of the 1991 World Championships and 1992 Winter Olympics, says Stephen Disson, president of the D.C.-based D & F Consulting Ltd. His firm represents many of the corporate sponsors of televised skating events.

Mr. Disson says he sees not only increased interest in skating, but a broadening of its audience. Skating fans are often educated, professional women but men are being brought out to rinks by wives and women friends, he says. "When they get out there they'll see it's not a so-called sissy sport," he says.

Increased spectator interest translates into more skaters.

In Mount Washington, Northwest Rink regularly draws as many as 150 people for a weekday evening, and a busy weekend can bring as many as 300.

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