Generally, sports equipment at the Olympics is state-of-the-art. Not so in figure skating, says Evy Scotvold, coach to American medalists Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie.

"We're really kind of prehistoric in our equipment, which is not high-tech at all," Mr. Scotvold revealed in a Monitor interview at last month's Winter Games in France.

"It's such a small sport," Scotvold explains. "There's no money for research and development."

The blades have gone virtually unchanged for decades, and the boots actually have gotten heavier and thicker, because greater stability is required to make today's increasingly athletic jumps.

Change is now blowing in the wind, thanks to research funded by the United States Olympic Committee.

The research is being conducted by Sidney Broadbent, an engineer and a leading ice-skate sharpener from Littleton, Colo., and Robert D. Phillips of the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences in Des Moines, Iowa.

Dr. Phillips visited the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., several years ago and found a high proportion of skaters with "abnormal feet," abused by the unusual conditions they are subjected to.

He is working with one company to develop more asymmetry in boot design. "If you have symmetry, you create tremendous force against one side of the boot," he says. The result is a boot that is painful to break in - and is broken in so quickly that the upper soon loses the desired support.

Whatever changes are adopted will have to be well- concealed, Phillips says, since any radical departures in the skate's appearance will be flatly rejected. "Figure skaters will sacrifice anything, including their own comfort and well-being, for the sake of good artistic form."

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