Scott Hamilton celebrates 30th anniversary of gold
SOCHI, Russia -- Sarajevo.
To many, the mention of the Bosnian city produces shudders, memories of death and devastation from civil war.
A decade earlier, the sports world gathered there in 1984 for the Winter Olympics. That is the Sarajevo that makes people smile. It is the Sarajevo that endures for Scott Hamilton.
Thirty years ago this Sunday, Hamilton won the figure skating gold medal. It is hardly the achievement that defines him -- he pretty much reinvented professional figure skating by creating "Stars On Ice" and has been the voice of the sport for decades.
But on the anniversary of his victory, part of a four-year winning streak that would seem impossible nowadays, it is very much worth recalling.
"Wet paint," Hamilton says with a smile about his most vivid memories of the Sarajevo Games. "I was afraid to sit down anywhere in the Zetra (arena). And you could get high on the fumes."
He's joking, of course. Hamilton's close win over Canada's Brian Orser wasn't the overriding highlight of those games -- some ice dancers named Torvill and Dean performed to "Bolero," which produced a stream of perfect 6.0s from the judges. But it was the apex for Hamilton's skating objectives.
"I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams," he says, "and skating has made it all possible. To represent the USA as a competitor seems improbable. To go four years without a loss as a competitor seems improbable.
"It was the culmination of a win streak more than an incredible awakening. Everything I did in those four years peaked at the Olympics."
It wasn't easy.
Hamilton went to Sarajevo as an overwhelming favorite, and despite his outgoing personality, he had to go into shutdown mode to deal with the stress. He kept to himself or stayed with his teammates, preferring not to discuss his chances unless absolutely required.
"I knew some people thought if I didn't win the gold medal, that I had lost," he recalls. "I needed to leave all of that to after the event. I needed to skate my programs, get that gold medal, and that was all that really mattered."
His free skate was not the best performance of his career, but his work in the compulsory figures -- remember them? -- and the technical program gave him a big enough lead to hold off Orser.
America had another Olympic champion, its first gold since Dorothy Hamill in 1976.
"Then it was time for celebrations," Hamilton says.
And to get a job. He was even told he was too short for the chorus line of one ice show, so he and Bob Kain came up with the idea of a skating tour that would feature skits and interplay with the audience. "Stars On Ice" has been around for more than 25 years.
Meanwhile, Hamilton became the main analyst on network broadcasts of the sport, and his descriptions at the Olympics have become a key ingredient to skating's popularity during any games.
"I'd have to say the gold medal was a catalyst for everything else that has happened for me," Hamilton says. "But it was 20 years as a professional skater that kind of sealed the deal."
For Hamilton, there must be only one Sarajevo -- the city he skated in.
"My memories are so specific," he says, noting that Zetra was used as a morgue during the war, but he tries to think of it as the rink where he became an Olympic champion. "I had been there the year before and skated for five days. Then I went back for the Olympics, and once more for the European championships."
Then came the civil war that lasted from 1992-95.
"You would think, 'It can't be the same place if there is so much violence and hatred and death,"' Hamilton says. "I just can't put that in the same thought as it being the place where the Olympics happened. This was a place that was festive and positive and open for the athletes and everyone who attended. It was a big celebration.
"And then to see Sarajevo on TV was a war zone, it would just not work in my brain. For me, Sarajevo needs to be the Sarajevo of 1984."