STATELINE, Nev. - Scott Hamilton wants you to know that figure skaters are cool. That they're not a bunch of wimps in tight sequined suits who probably got stuffed in the gym lockers by the real jocks.
Oh, Hamilton would fit in most standard lockers. Diagnosed as a child with Schwachman-Diamond Syndrome, a partial paralysis of the intestinal tract that can stop the body from absorbing nutrients, he only stands 5-foot-3. But he doesn't let that stop him from hanging with the big hitters on the celebrity golf circuit.
They were probably more upset than Hamilton was thrilled. Having beaten testicular and brain cancer, the 1984 Olympic golf medalist isn't getting all life and death over celebrity golf. But maybe some beer-chugging "traditional" sports fan who watches him swing a club will recognize the athleticism of figure skaters.
Though his FOX show Skating With Celebrities didn't capture the public imagination like its model, Dancing With the Stars, Hamilton maintains hope that skating will regain the sporting spotlight.
Q: When did you get into golf?
A: Right after the '84 Olympics. I just wanted to do something outside, something fun to get some fresh air and exercise. And I just took up golf and liked it and stayed with it.
Q: What are the strengths of your game?
A: Oh, putting. It seems that's kind of where all the scoring is anyway. I'm on the tee with Marcus Allen and [speed skater] Dan Jansen and they're killing it, 280, whatever. I'm just hitting my little drives out there. Putting keeps me in it.
Q: You're out with all these football and basketball players in these celebrity tournaments. A lot of these guys are big hitters. How do you deal with that?
A: Oh, I never care. I don't take it so seriously, so it's not an extension of anything. [Laughs] Trust me.
I just came out there and play my game. … As long as you don't take it too seriously and you're just enjoying the beautiful surroundings and good people to play with, it's memorable and fun.
Q: Does anything from when you were competing in skating, any of those high-profile world events, carry over to playing out here?
A: No, because golf is pure recreation for me. For me there's nothing about it that's going to be occupational on any level. I'm just trying - especially when it comes to the short game - to get it close to the hole and just trying to execute if you're lucky enough to get it close to the hole.
I guess not being afraid of people. Not being afraid of crowds. Because that can be intimidating on a golf course. That helps a little.
Q: Are people surprised to see you out here in these celebrity events? You don't see a lot of figure skaters.
A: Oh, there's a lot of good skater golfers. Todd Eldredge is a great golfer. A lot of skaters play golf - most of them do, actually. [Canadian pairs Olympic medalist] David Pelletier and his wife, Jamie Sale, they play golf. Kristi Yamaguchi plays golf.
We have our outings. My best friend Steve Cousins, the British champion, and I have killer matches. That's fun.
Q: A big topic right now in golf is Michelle Wie. In skating there have been young teenage competitors for a long time. How do you view the topic of teenagers competing against adults at the highest level of sports?
A: It's great to have phenoms because they bring a lot of attention to the sport. And Michelle Wie, if she really wants to make it on the men's tour, that seems to be her calling. If she can do that, great. But there's nothing wrong with being a dominant lady golfer too.
I wish her the best. Tiger Woods brought a lot of attention with his youth, his energy and his quality. He brought a lot of attention to the game and kind of saved it. It was kind of dull there for a while before Tiger. He made it a big story. I think that's what Michelle can bring.
Q: Now that you're doing TV commentating, for the Olympics and other events, do you look at sports in a different way than when you were competing?
A: I don't know. It changes when money finds a sport. It tends to undermine it quite a bit. You can see that in a lot of professional sports right now. A lot of the athletes out there are making good money and they should be, because the revenues are there. But you don't want them to lose touch with who's paying the bills. …
But times change. Everything's cyclical. Sooner or later, life has a way of bringing us back down to earth. Skating has been like that too. We had a boom in the mid-'90s and now it's ebbing quite a bit and people are having to eat healthy doses of humble pie.
Q: What do you think of the state of skating right now?
A: Athletically, it's never been stronger. Economically, it's never been worse. So hopefully things will come around. It's just a lot of the rule changes that have been made. Adjustments to how the sport's been presented and who competes and how they compete have driven a lot of the fans away.
The powers that be really don't want to look at it that way because they have their own agenda. But until they can really embrace the public again, revenues will continue to decline and kill the game.
January 9, 2007