Hamilton-Santee figure skating rivalry over, or is it?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

An intense yet friendly rivalry in American figure skating may be over, or it might just be shifting into high gear and aiming for the 1984 Winter Olympics. Scott Hamilton, 22, from Bowling Green, Ohio, edged out his teammate David Santee, 23, of Park Ridge, Ill., for the US Figure Skating Championships in San Diego last month and repeated the feat at the World Figure Skating Championships here last week.

Hamilton wants to compete until the 1984 Olympics. Santee, who was previously the perpetual runner-up to four-time US champ Charlie Tickner and hoped to stand on top of the victory platform in 1981, isn't quite sure about the next three years.

"I have a feeling this is it for me," Santee said, "I've been to two Olympics and this was my sixth world championship. I've accomplished a lot this year. This is my first world medal and the first time I've been in the top three in the free skating. I have to sit down and think it over. If I decide to keep competing, I will go three years."

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By virtue of the draw, Hamilton and Santee, the strongest contenders for the championship, were the last two skaters to take to the ice in the free skating, which counts for 50 percent of the total score.

Hamilton opened his program with a triple lutz, landing the jump cleanly and solidly. "I heard a big gasp from the audience and then a loud cheer," Hamilton said, "and then I knew I was doing alright."

He went on to skate his five-minute program better than alright, garnering cheers upon cheers from the packed house of more than 14,000 figure skating fans. Near the end of his difficult program, during the fast and fancy footwork for which he is famous.Hamilton carved a deep edge, striking the side of his boot sole on the ice. He sat down hard, bounced back on his blades without missing a beat and finished to a standing ovation and a tidal wave of flowers which were heaped upon him as he watched breathlessly for his marks.

Figure skating judges are supposed to deduct points for errors which appear to be because a skater has overreached and included a movement beyond his ability, but not for a slip that seemed like a fluke. The nine judges evidently put Hamilton's fall in the latter category, awarding him 5.8s and 5.9s for technical merit and 5.7s at 5.9s for artistic impression out of a perfect score of 6.0. The crowd broke out into wild cheers again and Hamilton's grin grew even wider.

Meanwhile, David Santee was skating around in tight circles in one corner of the rink, waiting for his chance. He was ahead of Hamilton going into this final phase of the competition but knew he had to turn in a stellar performance in both athletic and artistic terms in order to hold his lead. Like Hamilton, Santee opened his program with a triple jump, but unlike Hamilton, he stumbled slightly on the landing of the three-revolution slip jump. "I was overaggressive," he said later. "I wanted it so badly that I didn't hold on to it.

The flub seemed to take some of the spontaneity out of the rest of the program, which Santee skated strongly and competently but without his usual flair. Even at the end, which Santee skates to the title song from "Rocky," his adopted theme song, the spark was missing.

The judges sensed it too, giving Santee marks of 5.7 and 5.8 for technical merit and 5.6 to 5.9 for artistic impression. When the computers had figures the elements that go into figure skating scoring, Hamilton led both the free skating and final standings. Santee had dropped from first to second place for a silver medal, while Igor Bobrin, 27, of the Soviet Union finished third overall on the strength of a powerful and imaginative free skating performance, elevating him from fifth place after the compulsory figures and the short program.

"If I had to lose, I'm glad it was to Scotty," Santee said, "but I am sorry to lose. I am just happy knowing that I gave it my best shot."

Hamilton is a popular champion, Santee an introspective and well-regaded athlete who will have left his own mark on skating, whether or not he retires now. Even his theme song is being copied. Xu Zhaoxiao of China skated to "Rocky" in the short program, and Christopher Howarth of Great Britain included the theme in his long program.

"It's the ultimate compliment, and I'm flattered," Santee said.

If Santee quits, Hamilton says he will be "devastated." He recalled meeting Santee for the first time when both were boys competing in Hamilton's hometown in 1967 or '68. Neither can remember precisely when, but Santee was in the intermediate division, while Hamilton skated in something called sub-juvenile. "David did three single axels in a row," Hamilton recalls. "I kept following him around wondering how he did it."

The two skaters have been friends ever since and teammates since Hamilton first broke into the national senior ranks in 1978. This is the first year that Hamilton has beaten Santee.

If Santee was taking comfort in his silver medal to overcome his disappointment, the new US and world champion couldn't contain his elation. "This is the last time this year that I have to do my competition program," Hamilton said in evident relief at having his most grueling competition season behind him. "This is a victory I can really savor."

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