Working up whimsical, new routine a 'big test' for skater Scott Hamilton

Scott Hamilton, the two-time, defending national and world figure skating champion, enjoys his sport because it not only provides an athletic challenge but also allows him to express his outgoing personality.

The quick-witted, vivacious Hamilton incorporates his keen sense of humor and playfulness into his performances.

''Skating is the only sport in which your individual personality can come out ,'' the 24-year-old said after practice at his home rink, the Colorado Ice Arena. ''It's more of an art form and not just technical perfection. It involves how you display yourself and how you impress an audience. Last year I was the first person to use humor purposely and blatantly in a routine.''

Don Laws, Hamilton's coach the past 31/2 years who has guided him to a fifth-place finish in the 1980 Olympics and back-to-back national and world championship titles, also likes to stress Hamilton's fun-loving character and is inserting it into the champion's new freestyle long program.

''Scott is a humorous individual, and what he's doing should be enjoyable for him and for the people watching him.'' Laws said. ''Our new routine has humor, not comedy. It's subtle and whimsical, not blatant like his performance last year.''

One might wonder why Hamilton, only the fifth US skater to successfully defend a world championship, would change routines.

''The old routine became an outstanding trademark of Scott's and when the formula is so great, you hate to change it, but people like to see something new ,'' Laws said. ''But, it's not just new, it's better.''

The choreography of Hamilton's new, five-minute program is a combined effort by Hamilton, Laws, and Ricky Harris, a dancer in Los Angeles, and represents the first real change for Hamilton since Laws became his coach.

''I only have so many years left and want to improve as much as I can,'' the 5 ft. 3 in., 110-pound skater said. ''It involves two new jumps, a triple loop and triple flip, and I've never performed the triple loop in competition. When you know a routine real well, you know all the motions and when to rest and when to breathe, but this is all new. This is the BIG TEST.''

When the 1981 US Olympic Committee's Male Athlete of the Year takes to the ice he talks, jokes, and waves at the group of about 30 young skaters. When he glides over to the stereo tape player to put on the music for his new program, however, the skaters all stop and watch, not only out of courtesy, but because they realize they are fortunate enough to be watching the world's best skater.

The blond-haired, blue-eyed athlete executes the maneuvers of his new act, occasionally missing the timing of the movements set to a medley of big-band-era songs and waltz tunes.

''This is all new for me and I'll find myself a little off center, not quite over my feet all the time,'' he said. ''It's a whole new look and technically much harder.''

The long program increasingly has accounted for more of a skater's score in international competition and now is worth 50 percent. School figures, tracing required geometric patterns, accounts for 30 percent, and the two-minute, short program, involving seven mandatory free-skating elements, counts 20 percent.

Hamilton's routine opens to the percussive ''Sing, Sing, Sing,'' a fast-paced jazz tune, and then slows to a rendition of ''Snowfall.'' The final segment, done to a Strauss waltz, is Hamilton's whimsical flashback to a previous era.

''It's also kind of a parody on dance skating,'' Hamilton said with a grin. ''I'm unsure with it now, but when it's good, it should be humorous.''

The individuality and expressiveness of skating appealed to Hamilton when he was a child growing up in his native Bowling Green, Ohio. A physical condition held him back from playing most team sports, though he did play some hockey.''One of my biggest thrills was getting an assist in a hockey game and then performing in a skating exhibition later that evening,'' he recalled.

Hamilton first skated when he was nine and started competing six months later.

''I wasn't a natural, just little and coordinated,'' he said. ''My parents were supportive and I just kept improving.''

That improvement in recent years has been channeled toward one of the most revered objectives in all of sports - to win an Olympic gold medal. After securing the world championship in 1981, Hamilton was approached by a professional skating tour, but unlike many of his colleagues, he chose to remain an amateur, a decision he reached with the help of Dick Button, a seven-time national champion, five-time world champ, and winner of two Olympic golds.

''I spoke with Dick Button at a meet one day and he said, 'You can turn professional any time you want, but, remember, one Olympic championship is worth five worlds,' '' Hamilton said. ''No individual achievement in sports is better than that, so it's become my personal goal.''

Competing in the last Olympics gave him a taste of one of the most pressure-intense situations any athlete can experience.

''The pressures on a purely amateur athlete are incredible,'' he said. ''It's worse than (the pressures of) a professional with all the competitions and show circuits, and involves twice or three times the television coverage. It's go, go , go. It's exhausting.''

Scott is philosophical about the place of skating in his life.

''It's a sport, something in which I compete, and I want to be recognized as an athlete, but I have other interests.''

Hamilton finds his hobbies, family, and friends provide a welcome release from the pressures of skating. He enjoys pop music and is a big fan of pro football's Denver Broncos. His family remains in Bowling Green, his father, Ernest, a biology professor at Bowling Green State University, an older sister, Sue, and younger brother, Steve. While training in Denver, he stays with Dr. and Mrs. Henry Landis, Dorothy Hamill's hosts when she trained in Colorado.

Regardless of what happens in 1984, however, Scott will be ready to consider new avenues.

''Skating is all I've known since I was nine,'' he said. ''I know I've never been exposed to real life and that I have a limited knowledge. I'm not complaining, but after 1984, I'll sit down and think about it.''

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