Boitano, Brian Anthony

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BOITANO, Brian Anthony

(b. 22 October 1963 in Mountain View, California), figure skater, winner of more than fifty skating titles, and gold medalist at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Boitano was born to Lew Boitano, a banker, and Donna Boitano, a homemaker. He grew up in Sunnyvale, California, the youngest of four children in an upper-middle-class Italian-American family. As a youngster Boitano loved to read. He enjoyed a variety of physical activities, including roller-skating, skiing, tennis, biking, and baseball. He became interested in figure skating when, at the age of eight, his parents took him to see the Ice Follies in San Francisco. From that day on, Boitano wanted nothing else but to take ice-skating lessons.

Boitano's parents sent him to the Sunnyvale Ice Palace, a local rink, for skating lessons. There he met Linda Leaver, who would become his lifelong skating coach. Leaver immediately recognized Boitano's talent and ability on the ice and suggested that he take private lessons with her. Boitano quickly grasped figure-skating techniques under Leaver's tutelage, winning competitions almost from the start, including the "pixie boys" division while still eight years old. In 1988 his coach told David Levine of Sport magazine that "at ten he was doing things most twenty-year-olds weren't." Boitano was the only eleven-year-old skater to successfully complete a triple jump (the triple salchow, in which a skater takes off from the back inside edge of one skate and lands on the outside edge of the opposite skate). His other feat included landing a triple axel (a jump taken from the forward outside edge of one skate and, after three revolutions in the air, landed on the back outside edge of the opposite skate) at the age of seventeen.

Boitano's talent and diligence would eventually take him to the pinnacle of men's figure skating. While in elementary school, he practiced at the rink for five hours a day, from mid-afternoon until late evening. After he entered Peterson High School in Sunnyvale, Boitano was at the rink every morning before dawn, where he practiced until mid-morning before going to school. Although his schedule caused him to miss his first two class periods, he received physical education credits for his skating practice. He continued to practice through the summer.

Despite Boitano's extraordinary jumping ability (in competitions he performed the triple lutz, flip, loop, and toe loop in addition to the triple axel and salchow), his perfect landings did not garner him first place in competitions. In fact, at the 1979 U.S. senior men's competition, he placed eighth. He moved to fifth place the following year, fourth place in 1981 and 1982, and second place in 1983 and 1984. At the 1982 U.S. figure-skating championships, Boitano was the first American to perform and land a triple axel. At the 1983 world championships in Helsinki, Finland, he was the first skater to ever complete six different types of triple jumps in competition. At that event he placed seventh. His second-place finish at the 1987 world championships in Cincinnati, Ohio, changed Boitano's skating career. After losing the championship to his rival, Brian Orser of Canada, Boitano hired Sandra Bezic, a skating choreographer, to add artistic elements to complement his technical expertise.

Bezic, a five-time Canadian pairs champion, added grace and artistic sense to Boitano's freestyle program. She replaced Boitano's pop tunes with classical music. In an interview with the Washington Post, Bezic said, "He's just now learned to get into the music, to feel the emotion and skate from his heart. This was the last piece to come together." On 20 February 1988 Boitano's outstanding freestyle routine won him the gold medal in men's figure skating at the Winter Olympics in Calgary. He was finally able to beat his chief competitor, Brian Orser. That same year Boitano captured the crown at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, and afterward turned professional.

As a professional Boitano competed for the world professional title, winning six times. He created a figure-skating jump, the "Tano Triple," that, as of 2001, no skater other than Boitano had executed successfully. He decided against joining the Ice Capades or the Ice Follies, the popular venues for professional skaters. Instead, he opted for other projects, including the starring role in the 1988 television special Canvas of Ice, becoming the first American male athlete to have his own network television program. The show won awards at the International Film and Television Festival of New York and the Chicago International Film Festival. In 1990 Boitano won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Don José in the movie Carmen on Ice, shown on cable television.

Boitano and Katarina Witt, the East German Olympic gold medalist in women's figure skating, were the artistic directors for a series of North American skating tours—Skating, Skating II, and Chrysler Skating '92—that showcased Olympic and World champion figure skaters. In 1995 Boitano cofounded White Canvas Productions with partners Doug Zeghibe and Franc D'Ambrosio. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the company put together several ice-skating shows for television and live audiences, with Boitano serving as artistic director.

Boitano tried again for the men's figure-skating gold in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, which was open to professional skaters. However, he was unable to place and came in sixth. Later he began competing in the Ice Wars, professional competitions that team the best U.S. skaters against the best world skaters. As a professional, he has won twenty of the twenty-four competitions he has entered—a record in the world of figure skating.

Boitano is a spokesperson for several nonprofit organizations, including the Starlight Children's Foundation, National Safe Kids Campaign Entertainment Alliance, and the Public Awareness Council of the American Red Cross. In 1998 he founded Brian Boitano's Youth Skate, a program that introduces San Francisco's inner-city youth to the sport of ice-skating. Boitano was inducted into both the World and the Figure Skating Halls of Fame in 1996.

Boitano is the author of Boitano's Edge: Inside the Real World of Figure Skating (1997), written for young adults and filled with personal anecdotes. Additional information can be found in articles in Time (15 Feb. 1988) and Sports Illustrated (4 Apr. 1988; 12 Feb. 1990; 24 Feb. 1992; and 2 Oct. 1992).

Margalit Susser

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