The Skaters Assemble Backstage

She is hipless and chestless, and looks closer to 13 than her 28 years. She wears a size 0. She’s no different from the other girls. Not one hits the 105-pound mark. (“You can’t rotate three times in the air unless you’re thin,” Miller explained earlier. “Narrow hips, thin, slightly bowed legs: That’s a gift from God.”)

The capacity crowd of 8,500 take their seats. The ice is swept clean. The lights dim. The skaters assemble backstage in their costumes.

And then it’s show time

After a rousing preamble by Hamilton via offstage microphone, the show proper begins, and all the stars enter one by one to the sounds of their illustrious biographies. A man whoops for Gordeeva and is battered with disapproving glares. Ice shows are no place for horn-dog hooting. Lipinski and Hamilton skate out last, to deafening applause.

Most of the male skaters don’t smile. They get to look stern and hungry, their costumes like scaled-down Ricky Martin clubwear. The women are expected to smile, and they do, every second they are on the ice (save for the heart-wrenching classical numbers), until they whisk behind the exit curtain, where they rush to change for the next number.

The show lasts two hours, with a brief intermission. The women’s numbers are divided into what could be called “virgin skates,” where the women look ethereal and pure and spin along to ballads and Beethoven, and “tart skates,” where they wear exaggerated bikinis–or in Lipinski’s case, an American-flag bustier and leather hot pants–and strut about to rock `n’ roll. In one number, half the girls skate wearing feather boas, and the boy skaters swoon or court accordingly. The audience responds with manic applause and polite chuckling.

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American Teams in Women’s Table Tennis

At the Olympics this summer, Chen may be one of at least a half dozen foreign-born athletes (including two male athletes-one a rower, the other a marathoner), who have received citizenship in time to compete. Even though they will lead American teams in women’s table tennis, badminton and synchronized swimming, they will garner only a fraction of the attention they would have received had they competed for their homelands. Still, they are more than willing to give up fame for a set of rights that most American athletes take for granted.

“It was the people, their spirit of optimism–that’s what I wanted to be a part of,” says Anna Kozlova, 27, a synchronized swimmer from Russia who received her citizenship on October 7, just in time to qualify for the U.S. team. Kozlova, who placed fourth for Russia at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, had traveled to California to train in 1993 and decided to stay. She settled in Santa Clara and has become as thoroughly American outside the pool (she loves Bob Fosse and shopping) as she is in it (she swept three of the last four U.S. nationals).

Like Chen, Kozlova was the product of a state-sponsored sports system. At age 12, she was selected to attend the School of Future Olympians in St. Petersburg. “They fed us really well,” she says. “Sometimes they would give us caviar three times a day.” But the luxuries didn’t diminish the program’s strictness. “The coaches would tell us, `One mistake and you are off the national team!'” Control extended to the athletes’ personal lives. “To go anywhere was really difficult,” she recalls. “During training, wives could only see their husbands for 15 minutes. They told us that the harder the conditions, the better we would be.” In the U.S., liberated from fear and anxiety, Kozlova has flourished. “My American coach has taught me how to make competition a thrill, a performance,” she says.

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Lake Placid Olympic Center

Two months later, at the Lake Placid Olympic Center, the skaters are primed for their debut. Tonight is the initial showing of the new Target Starx on Ice extravaganza, the one that will be filmed (and edited to blot out falls) for TV.

The show starts at eight, but the crowd has already looped in on itself by seven. Fans circle outside in freezing rain. The crowd is overwhelmingly white. Most are heavyset. Some carry trinkets to give to their favorite skaters should they be lucky enough to meet them.

“I’ve wanted to come for years to this show,” enthuses Renate, a fan in her early 50s. “It’s world-class talent. And I love Tara’s vivaciousness. She’s such a terrific young lady.”

A prepubescent spectator rode three hours with her mother from Canada

Although her favorite is Michelle Kwan, who skates on the Champions tour, she is still psyched to be here. She holds a cardboard sign on which WE LOVE YOU! is scribbled in Magic Marker.

“I skate too,” she says proudly. “And someday I want to be in a show like this.”

What about winning a gold medal’?

“I guess.”

Inside, the skaters gather backstage. All fidget. Some tug on their ears. Others hop from foot to foot. Hamilton gives Lipinski a pep talk, reminding her that the crowd is “here to see your cute face.” She tugs down her skirt.

Gordeeva’s daughter, Dada, runs around, juiced on the preshow energy. She is blond and skates, but she prefers acting. She calls Hamilton “Mr. Funny Guy” and teaches a PR flack how to count in Russian.

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Kayaking & Hiking

Our ideal island vacation: a little surf (kayaking), a little turf (hiking) and not a tourist in sight. Dress code: casual.

Caribbean queen: With its warm turquoise water and scenic mountain peaks, St. Lucia is the perfect multisport vacation getaway. Did we mention that the average daily temperature is 85 [degrees] F? Opposite page’ The luxurious Anse Chastanet Hotel (758-459-7000) offers everything from scuba diving to sea kayaking. Nylon and mesh bathing suit and nylon vest by Prada; tinted goggles, like these by Barracuda, protect eyes from the sun’s glare. This page, from left: Wearing sport tops and tropical shorts, you’ll be ready for hiking; halter top by Nike; lifeguard “Trunk-It” board shorts by Water Girl USA; sport top by Nike; board shorts by Patagonia. Fashion editor: Aileen Marr. Styled by Kristina Ferrante.

Prefer the links to the limbo? The Jalousie Hilton Resort & Spa (888-744-5256) has a 3-hole golf course located on the side of Gros Piton mountain. The hotel is notable for its imported white sand, because most of the island’s beaches are black. Left: Drawstring pant by Susana Monaco; J. Crew bikini top; Hawaiian print hat by Xhilaration. Right: Ralph Lauren cotton tank with plaid poplin shirt from Mini by X-Large; nylon cropped pants from Gym; golf shoes by Footjoy. Opposite page: Vieux Fort, on the southern tip of the island, is a windsurfer’s paradise; Letarte rash guard; Roxy by Quiksilver bikini bottom.

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Wear Costumes Instead of Gear

And while other athletes may mock skaters’ accomplishments, considering them less sportswomen than show ponies, those in the “skating community” (the term comes up often, as does the phrase we’re one big, happy family) seem immune or oblivious to the criticism, perhaps because figure skating has always existed in its own peerless sporting bubble.

You wear costumes instead of gear

You are expected to excel technically and aerobically, but, also to charm. Where other female athletes need only ski faster, jump farther or score more goals, figure skaters must seduce, which means looking good. The last female contender who wasn’t attractive was Tonya Harding, and look what happened to her.

As a result of these uncommon criteria, figure skating draws uncommon women. Women who don’t crack under the pressure of excelling both in lutzes and lip lining. Gifted athletes who not only win gold medals but possess enough charisma to carry a marketing campaign.

Take Lipinski. The youngest Olympic, world and national figure skating champion in history, Lipinski turned pro at 15 and cashed in, signing gigs with DKNY, Mattel, Snapple and Campbell’s Soup. “I love touring,” she says. “I love being in hotels. Everyone on the tour is my best friend. Pressure is the Olympics. Touring is enjoying your rewards.” Continue reading “Wear Costumes Instead of Gear”

The Victory at the French Open

Graf’s self-protective armor is understandable given her father’s well-documented problems with tax evasion and drinking. Still, she has always remained publicly loyal to him. “He took care of everything, which allowed me to concentrate on my game. If it hadn’t been for him, I’m not sure what would have happened with my career.”

The Victory at the French Open

In May, Peter Graf, who served 15 months in prison for tax evasion, drove from Germany to Paris to see his daughter’s victory at the French Open. It was the first time he had seen her play since 1997. When Graf left the court, they embraced. And last summer, she attended his wedding. (He and Heidi divorced last March.) “Our relationship will never be like it once was,” Graf says. “Obviously, some things had to change and they did. But I was happy that he felt comfortable enough to come to the French Open and see me play there that last time.”

Sitting in the hotel restaurant, Graf looks at her watch. It is a few hours before her retirement ceremony, and she is beginning to squirm at the impending public praise. “I don’t like ceremonies,” Graf says. “It’s nice that people want to show their appreciation. But my career is in the past now, so I don’t want to think about it. I’m thinking about the future.” Continue reading “The Victory at the French Open”