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Scott Hamilton happy to be skating again

November 13, 2009 | 11:33 am

Hamilton_300 Scott Hamilton’s voice, though muffled by a bad cellphone connection, was unmistakably joyful.

“I’m back to being an ice skater. How weird is that?” he said the other day. “Isn’t that bizarre? I never thought I’d be doing this again.”

Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic figure skating gold medalist, returned to performing last weekend for the first time in 5½ years, skating in Cleveland for the benefit of the Scott CARES initiative at the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center.

The show, which also featured figure skating gold medalists Kristi Yamaguchi, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Ilia Kulik, among others, raised more than $1 million for the initiative, which provides advice and resources to cancer patients and their families.

It was Hamilton’s first performance for a crowd since he was treated for a benign brain tumor in 2004. It was far from perfect, but simply being back on the ice with friends who were as close as family was enough to make it a different kind of gold-medal effort.

“It was fun. It put me back in touch with what I loved about skating,” he said. “When I stopped skating 5½ years ago I didn’t want to skate anymore. I’d gotten to a place where I wasn’t happy on the ice, and now being back out there I am happy about skating again. I was able to kind of release whatever feelings I had before that put me into retirement, whether it was chemistry or brain chemistry from having the brain tumor.

“That’s one thing I really wanted to know. Did I stop skating back then because it was really time, or was it body chemistry or brain chemistry that was stopping me from enjoying and skating at a level I could feel good about? And just being with my friends again in that capacity and skating again made me feel like what happened 5½ years ago taking away skating wasn’t something in my control. It was an issue with my health.

“And I’m hoping I can just keep working towards being the best skater I can be and performing more and more often and getting better with each performance.”

Having his sons, 6-year-old Aidan and 22-month-old Maxx, there to see him added to his joy.

He skated a final lap with Maxx, who had run around backstage yelling, “Yay, Daddy!” before he even took to the ice, giving him confidence he’d have at least one fan rooting for him.

He said he was concerned how Aidan would react to seeing him perform, but the boy enjoyed the evening.

“His whole life he’s known me as someone who’s been around the house and important to him. I work and do my phone calls and every year I host my benefit, so he’s familiar with that,” Hamilton said. “For him to see me in costume and performing to music on ice and to get that kind of reaction and response, I thought, I was concerned it might just shock him in a way.

"It’s a whole different world, to see his dad like that, to see me step out in my old identity. I thought it might be confusing for him but he was fine.”

Hamilton, a testicular cancer survivor, plans to skate in another cancer benefit show Monday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The show will also include fellow cancer survivors Dorothy Hamill, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist, and singer Olivia Newton-John. It will be aired on Fox on Nov. 26.

He has a few more shows planned but said his ultimate goal is to revive what he called “the entertainment side of the sport,” which he says has suffered in recent years.

Whether because of overexposure after the 1994 Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan drama or fans’ alienation from the sport following the pairs judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics, skating has lost a lot of its luster. Hamilton wants to bring it back.

“I think it’s something the audience genuinely misses, something geared directly toward them,” he said, “so I’m trying my hardest to breathe new life into professional skating and working on all kinds of projects that will kick in next year. I hope to build on the Olympic momentum and make something new happen and get this sport back where it should be, in the public eye in a really healthy way, breaking ground artistically.

“Athletically it’s doing great. Artistically it needs a little push, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

It’s a tough task, but never bet against Scott Hamilton.

-- Helene Elliott 

Photo: Scott Hamilton performing Nov. 7 at the Gala in Cleveland.  Credit: Don Gerda