Hamilton, Scott Scovell

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HAMILTON, Scott Scovell

(b. 28 September 1958 in Toledo, Ohio), figure skater who was a four-time world champion from 1981 to 1984 and won a gold medal at the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Hamilton was adopted by Dorothy McIntosh and Ernest Hamilton, both descendants of famous colonial Americans, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, respectively. Both parents also became college professors, Dorothy in the field of home economics and family relations and Ernest in plant ecology. Hamilton has a sister and an adopted brother.

At the age of four Hamilton stopped growing, a condition doctors tentatively attributed to an inability to absorb nutrients. He also evidenced respiratory problems, and until age nine was subjected to constant medical reevaluations and varied treatments. When he began skating he was short and underweight, and appeared on the ice with a feeding tube extending from his nose. But for the first time in his life, Hamilton felt equal to everyone else because, as he put it, "I didn't have so far to fall." He soon began to grow and gain weight, possibly from the challenge of the exercise itself. Hamilton simply stated, "The more I gave to skating, the more it gave back in the form of emotional and physical strength."

From the beginning of his career, Hamilton was primarily attracted to two aspects of figure skating: the athleticism necessary for speed and jumps, and the art of entertaining an audience. However, to be competitive he also needed to perfect the technique of inscribing figures in the ice, patterns used to demonstrate the skater's control, position, and balance.

In 1972, at the beginning of his high school years, Hamilton left home to train with Pierre Brunet in Illinois. At that point he showed promise as a skater, but he lacked motivation and self-discipline. Two important events provided the impetus he needed. First, an anonymous couple agreed to sponsor Hamilton as a potential Olympic athlete. He left his studies at Bowling Green High School to pursue his career full time. Second, he witnessed his mother's unstinting emotional support while she herself was fighting cancer; she died of the disease in 1977. Up to that point Hamilton had done reasonably well, with a first at the U.S. Men's Junior Championship while under the tutorage of coach Carlo Fassi, and a ninth in his first senior Nationals. But in 1978, with newfound inner strength and a technical breakthrough triple Lutz/double-toe combination, he placed third in the Nationals and a respectable eleventh in the Worlds.

Aided by the expertise of his new coach, Don Laws, Hamilton finished third in the 1980 Nationals, earning him a place on the upcoming United States Olympic team. Ironically, just as his reputation was extending beyond national limits, one international figure-skating judge made the comment that Hamilton had no chance to succeed because the five-foot, three-inch, 115-pound skater wasn't big enough to create a strong impression on the ice. His Olympic teammates felt differently, however. Seeing him as an athlete who exemplified Olympic courage, they voted him honorary flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies. At the competition itself, he finished fifth and received a standing ovation from the audience.

In 1981, with a program that included challenging jumps and intricate footwork and spins, Hamilton again received a standing ovation, this time as national champion. Between the years 1982 and 1984, Hamilton maintained both the national and world championship titles despite challenges from other superior technicians, such as Brian Boitano, and the psychological pressure of maintaining excellence. Hamilton's creativity helped. In the 1982 Worlds, his flair for comedy emerged and proved successful with both judges and audience. Likewise, in 1983, he discarded the ballet-like skating outfits traditionally worn by male skaters and replaced them with a speed skating suit. The innovation proved successful, and Hamilton left Helsinki a three-time world champion.

Hamilton's Olympic dream was finally realized in 1984 at Sarajevo. Together with Laws, he planned a program that exploited his strengths—speed, footwork, a big opening triple Lutz, and an athletic resolution. However, through the three phases of the competition his performance was adversely affected by an inner ear imbalance. Sheer athletic stamina held the long program together, but because of his illness it suffered from lack of precision. "They didn't see me at my best today," he wrote, "but they saw the best I had in me." In the end, it was enough. On the basis of the three scores, Hamilton received the gold medal and became the 1984 Olympic champion.

Rather than ending his amateur career with a less-than-ideal performance, Hamilton seized one more opportunity for an unqualified win by brilliantly defending his world title in 1984. Shortly thereafter, he announced his plans to skate professionally with Ice Capades, and two years later he cofounded Stars on Ice, a highly successful touring company. "Stars on Ice came at a time when people were becoming more sophisticated to what skating is all about," he later observed. Hamilton also competed in World Professional Championships, and in 1987 began an alternate career on television as a figure skating analyst for CBS. In 1988 he received the Jacques Favert Award, the International Skating Union's highest recognition of merit.

In March 1997 Hamilton was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent a rigorous combination treatment of chemotherapy and surgery. "With my own belief that the only disability in life is a bad attitude, I feel 100 percent confident that I can overcome this disease," he told reporters. He was right. With his cancer in remission, he began skating to fund ongoing cancer research and a program of support for patients and their families. In 2001 Hamilton retired from the highly successful Stars on Ice. He was inducted into both the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the World Skating Hall of Fame in 1990.

Throughout his skating career, Hamilton turned formidable challenges to his personal advantage. He compensated for his small stature by developing impressive jumping techniques, extended lines, intricate footwork, and the ability to entertain an audience. However, his place in the history of figure skating was assured by solid achievements, including eight consecutive national and world titles. Hamilton also extended the dimensions of ice entertainment as cofounder, performer, and producer of Stars on Ice. Finally, through grappling with a devastating disease and aiding others similarly afflicted, Hamilton once again seized a seemingly insurmountable obstacle as an opportunity for positive gain.

Hamilton's autobiography, Landing It, My Life On and Off the Ice (1999), contains pertinent details, personal reflections, and observations of contemporary figure skaters. Articles on Hamilton include "Figure Skating; Hamilton Has Cancer," New York Times (20 Mar. 1997), and Barry Wilner, "Hamilton Hanging Up Tour Skates, Heading for Other Challenges," Associated Press, Sports News (15 Dec. 2000).

Judith Hawkins

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