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Scott Hamilton

Interview: Scott Hamilton
Olympic Hall of Fame

June 29, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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To start with, tell us a little about your childhood.

Scott Hamilton: I was adopted at six weeks old by two school teachers. My father was a professor of biology at Bowling Green State University. My mother was a second grade school teacher. As my skating got more expensive, she became an associate professor at Bowling Green in the home economics department. I was adopted because my parents had trouble having children. My sister is from my parents, and my brother and I were both adopted. I grew up blessed with loving parents and a great household.

Around the time I was two or three-years-old, it's all pretty mysterious, I stopped growing. And my parents noticed that I wasn't developing like the other children and it scared them a great deal. Because without knowing your family history, medical history, you really don't know how to react, or what to expect from your adopted children. So I went in and out of hospitals for a long period of time. I was misdiagnosed many, many times. Once with cystic fibrosis, and another time with Schwackman's Syndrome, which is a pancreatic enzyme deficiency. Basically what I had was a paralyzed, or a non-effective intestine system where I wasn't absorbing the food that I was eating.

We were in and out of hospitals, and I was on all these restricted diets. Finally, we went to see Harry Schwackman in Boston and he said, "It's not Schwackman's Syndrome. We've run every test, we can't find anything wrong with him. Let him lead a normal life and see what happens."

After years, and years, and years of living in hospitals and being away from other kids and not growing and not developing, I went home to live a normal life. And part of that was going to the skating rink every Saturday morning with our family doctor's kids, the Klepners' kids, and my sister was a part of the skating program. And it was one of those things that I could do probably better than the kids that were really tall and really muscular and everything else. And it gave me a way to express myself a little bit, just in a way that I could make my own schedule. I could determine my own development on the ice and improvement. And it gave me some self-esteem that I didn't have growing up because I was the shortest one in the class and sick and couldn't really compete -- couldn't play all those reindeer games, I guess. So I started skating and the illness completely went away.

When did you put on your first pair of skates, and did you think that you were going to make a career out of skating from that point on?

Scott Hamilton: I was nine years old when I first put on skates. It was a Saturday morning junior club at the brand new ice skating facility at Bowling Green State University. They wanted to have a hockey team. The trendy thing in a small town is, "Let's use the new place." So I was going out there every Saturday and I just picked it up. I improved rapidly. It was just something that I did.

I didn't really think that I was gifted or I didn't really think that I was super talented. I was just lucky to have a body that was the right proportion to pick up skating because I was pretty agile. And, the fact that I liked to show off and be the center of attention really lends itself to figure skating very well. But, I never really thought that I would be extraordinarily successful at skating. It's just something that happened, you know. And you get to a level of expertise or you get to a level competitively and you just try to be as good as you can be. I started winning competitions and I started improving in spurts that were really pretty fortunate because I was at a technical level that was higher than the rest of the guys that were my age, which happened kind of all at once. They were way ahead of me, then I caught up all at once.

When you first put those skates on did you hear the Olympic theme in the background?

Scott Hamilton: No, it wasn't like, "He looked across the room and saw skates glowing in the corner. He stepped out of his wheelchair and it was a miracle!" It wasn't anything Hollywood like that.

I started skating and I kind of liked it because I could run circles around the guys that wouldn't pick me to play baseball. "We don't want him. He's too short. He can't hit the ball over second base." But I could skate circles around them. And I ended up playing hockey just out of peer pressure. I didn't want to be the sissy figure skater, you know. So I played hockey for three years and I did quite well. It's just a big man's sport, you know, and I really was undersized. So, figure skating was a great vehicle for me to kind of be competitive at something without having to be big.

What was really funny is that as I got older all those guys who called me a sissy in junior high school wanted me to be their best friend because they wanted to meet all the girls that I knew in figure skating. "You know that little blond from Cleveland? Can you get me a date with her?" Life changes. It's pretty funny.

I graduated from high school, which was a negotiation, because I had switched schools so many times in my senior year that I missed some credits. I won the National Junior Championship in '76, the year I graduated from high school. I went into the principal of my school and he said, "You're about a credit and a half short. You need to figure out how we're going to get you out of this high school." And I said, "I'm threatening you right now. If you don't give me Physical Education credit, I'm coming back next year." He said, "That's enough for me. We don't want you back." So I got PE credit, which they had never given me before, because I was skating all the time and they figured, "You won a national title, I guess you're physically educated." So I just barely graduated high school.

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
I was an okay student, I wasn't gifted or anything. I got through with Bs and Cs, and a few As here and there, if it interested me. I was more interested in skating and the girls and traveling than I was in calculus. My education was in the rink. I considered the four years from '81 to '84 to be my college education. I graduated a the top of my class in the '84 Olympic Games; I won a gold medal. I went undefeated for four years. From the fall of October, 1980 to March, 1984 I never lost a competition. That was probably the greatest accomplishment I could think of, and it set up the rest of my life.<

Was there a particular teacher who inspired you?

Scott Hamilton: There were a lot of teachers when I was growing up. I don't think most teachers realize how much impact they have. I had a ninth grade teacher who told me I was much smarter and much better than I was allowing myself to be. She was basically calling me a slacker. I always remembered that, because when I'd start getting ready for the season, I knew what I had to do in order to be in the right shape to be competitive, or to be better than I was last year. She gave me that sense of responsibility, to really follow through.

Another teacher I had was for eighth grade history in Ohio. He called everybody Mr. this, or Miss that. It was a sign of respect that no other teacher gave us. It was something that I always appreciated. I always liked being treated with respect at that age. Now I try to treat younger people with respect when I come into contact with, whether it be for charity events or whatever. I try to treat them as adults and not as little kids or children.

There were other teachers who would really go out of their way to entertain and to keep the classes interesting. I had an earth science teacher in tenth grade who was awesome. You just couldn't wait to get in there every day, because he had a great sense of humor, and he'd give you images of hillside creep. When you look at the soil coming down the hill and the trees are still staying up, and you couldn't figure out why they would do that, he'd explain all that. He'd draw monsters coming over the hills and he made everything entertaining and fun. He trusted his students not to cheat on tests, so half the time he'd leave the classroom to honor his confidence in us.

Was there a particular experience or event that inspired you most to achieve the level of success that you have?

Scott Hamilton: The most important thing for my skating was the commitment I made after my mother passed away. She had done so many things for me throughout her life. She was a second grade school teacher, but she needed to make more money to keep me in skating, because it was very expensive. So she went back to school, and she was still working full time. She went back to school, she got her Masters and became an associate professor. And all that time she was suffering from cancer, with surgery and chemotherapy and radiation. It was pretty devastating physically and emotionally. Your life is being threatened, but at the same time you're looking ahead to the next job, to the next level of income.

She was a counselor in marriage and family relations, which meant that she had to face her illness own every day while she was counseling other people about their problems. She stayed focused and held the family together at home as well. She was the strongest person I've ever known.

When she (my mother) passed away, I kind of understood the commitment that she made to make sure that I could stay in skating and I wanted to live up to whatever I could. Not so much win everything, but just to be the best that I could possibly be, to honor her memory and everything she went through to make sure that I was given the opportunities to be the best that I can be. Not to be a world champion or an Olympic gold medalist, but to be the best that I could be. And that was the most important thing that ever happened in my career.

Then I decided I was going to take it seriously. Before then I was just improving, and working hard, and doing the best that I could do, but there was no force behind it. It was just something I did.

Would you say your mother most inspired you?

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Scott Hamilton: Absolutely. If you believe in the spirituality of a life force that is constant and forever, I think I absorbed a lot of her strength and a lot of her passion to hold it together and to fight through whatever obstacles lay in front of me. I always admired her strength and I always admired her courage. Without strength and courage it's really hard to perform at the highest levels of international figure skating, because you're alone on the ice and you only have seven minutes over two nights to prove yourself. And if you make any mistakes, you're dead. So I really feel like a lot of the qualities my mother had, and a lot of what she showed us with commitment, and integrity, and perseverance, I absorbed when she passed away. It gave me what I needed to be successful in figure skating.

What goes through your mind when you're out there on the ice, do you think of her?

Scott Hamilton: Sometimes. Every performance is different. Sometimes you're thinking, "Whoa, I've got this one stuck. This is great. I'm in the groove." And other times you think, "Uh oh, I don't feel right out here tonight. Who changed my skates? These are definitely not my blades." Other times, you'll make a mistake and you'll try not to panic through the rest of the performance. Other times you'll notice somebody in the audience that is doing something, and you're distracted. Every performance is different, so it makes each one special and unique. There's always a spontaneity. A lot of times you're skating for people that are complete strangers, but they're giving you this warmth and this acceptance, just by the look on their faces and the way that they're sitting while they're watching, that really makes you feel comfortable.

How did you feel when you began winning adult championships?

Scott Hamilton: When I won my first national title I was so excited, because that was something I understood. I knew who I was competing against, and I knew what I had to do to win.

When I won World's, I was devastated. I thought, "I'm a world champion? What's wrong with this sport?" "If I can win the World's, this is like a bad time for figure skating." And then I tried to live up to the expectations or my image of what a world figure skating championship should be and it drove me crazy. I never could live up to the image that I had preceeding my world championship. I could never! Those are for other people, those are for the great skaters of the past like Dick Button, and Hayes Jenkins, and Davey Jenkins. Those are world champions. I'm -- you know -- this short jerk from Ohio. What am I doing winning world championships?

It was devastating, because it brought the whole notion of world champion down in my mind. It took me a long time to get used to the fact that now is my time. I'm not Dick Buttons, I'm not Hayes Jenkins, I'm not Tim Wood, I'm not Charlie Tigner, I'm not Robin Cousins. I'm different. This is my time. and I've got a responsibility to myself. If I have an opportunity to win a competition, then I'm going to win it, regardless of what it's called. Whether it's Skate America, or Skate Canada, or the U.S. Nationals, if I'm there to compete and I am in a position where I can win, then it's my responsibility to win.

So the second year, when I defended the World Championship in '82, it became a very understandable, acceptable thing for me. Then when I won it in '83 and '84, I was comfortable in that role. Going to the Olympics as "the lock" was a little bit of a mind game too. When you're expected to win and you have the press saying that you are going to win the Olympic gold medal, and you're the only sure thing in the Olympics, it can undermine your confidence.

What I did was ask myself "What am I worried about? I've worked four years to be in a position where people are going to think that I could win this thing. Why do I want to talk them out of it?" Half of figure skating is opinion, convincing judges. If the judges are willing to give me the mark before I even show up, then it was worth all the effort of trying to win consistently for those four years.

What did you do to train and prepare for your successes, starting off with winning the Nationals and then going to the Olympics?

Scott Hamilton: A lot of it is good coaching. A lot of it is just planning ahead, looking at your year, looking at who your competition is, looking at what you need to do to be competitive. It's all a mix and match game, you know.

Say you're up against someone like Robert Wagenhoffer. He's a great skater, amazing jumper, but not so good in figures, so you knew if you got ahead of him in figures, he'll have to catch up to you in the freestyle. David Santee, another great competitor of mine, was good in the freestyle, but occasionally he'd make a mistake or two. You could skate clean, so your goal becomes consistency, plus you needed to stay close to him in the figures -- because he was great at compulsory figures -- in order to pull ahead of him in the freestyle.

There's always a strategy, and that shapes your preparation for the year. Not throwing a rock and roll program at an Eastern European panel. They won't get it. It's all planning ahead, looking at your competitors, looking at your year. Looking at where you're competing, and how you're going to follow through artistically. You set a strategy n May and June so that when you start competing in September and October you're prepared, and the judges find it easy to give you the marks that you want. It changes each year.

You can't show up with the same face. You can't show up with the same shirt. You can't show up with the same music every year because they get bored. And also, the new kid looks even better. So if you break it up every year and make it different so that you're new every year, there's not going to be one of these guys that come in with this kind of a trendy kind of gimmicky program that's going to overshadow you, because you're brand new as well.

There's always a lot of strategy involved. And it wasn't just being as good as you can be, or landing the jump every time, or this or that. It was everything. It was looking at the compulsory figures, looking at the competition schedule, looking at the exhibition schedule. Making sure that you had three weeks before every competition to build, so that you're peaking at the event.

I was lucky to have a great coach in Don Laws, from 1980 all the way through '84. He was a disciplinarian when I got there, and then he allowed me to discipline myself, which was so important. When they close that door behind you and announce that you're representing the United States it can be frightening, or it can be freeing For me it was, "Shut the door. It's time to skate." I knew that I got there on my own, with his help, instead of, "I got there on his shoulders and now I have to survive the event."

He gave me the confidence and the discipline to do it on my own. By '84 he'd sit by the boards and really wouldn't say too much. It was the best gift he ever gave me. We were prepared, we were ready to go, and everything was done. When it was time to compete, I could do it on my own. I wouldn't look over at the boards and say, "Help me." I'd look over at the boards and say, "Leave me alone, you're making me nervous," and he'd just back up. The communication was flawless.

What was going through your mind when you went undefeated for so long?

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
Scott Hamilton: At first I didn't really like it very much. I liked doing well at the '80 Olympics. I got the only standing ovation of the night, which was pretty cool. The Olympics in '80 was phenomenal. It was my favorite memory of all competitive events, because it was brand new and it was exciting.

Then when I started winning in '81, it was hard to take. I didn't really feel worthy of the title. It was a hard transition. By '82 I realized if I'm not going to win it somebody I'd beaten before will. I'll be going backwards if I don't keep winning.

So I kept trying to reinvent myself, and I kept trying to look at my competition, see who was really improving and try to stay ahead of them. Brian Boitano was coming up at the time, Brian Orser was coming up at the time. They all had the tougher jump, but they were still in their development stages. So I knew I could hold them off for a couple of more years.

For many years I skated angry, you know, I had the chip on my shoulder. And like most young people I was like, 'Well, I'm going to show them." The "they" thing. "They don't like me," or "They don't want to put me up there," or they, they, they. There's a lot thems and theys out there. Nobody can identify them. Who are they? But it's a paranoia thing and it's that chip that, you know, they're holding you back, or nobody understands. Every kid goes through that. So you kind of approach things with anger and intensity, and I did for many years. And then after I got kind of comfortable with things, I just realized that what I needed to do was be smart.

Look at the people that are judging you. Look at the audience and what they would like to see. Those are the theys and the thems. !

The best thing that can happen to you as a competitive figure skater is to get robbed at a competition. The best thing. It's money in the bank. They owe you and they know it. And if you don't rub their nose in it, if you forgive them and allow things to kind of smooth out, you'll be so much better off, you know. Don't be in people's faces as a skater. Let them know that they made a mistake, without being, you know, upset, or mad or angry. And it's money in the bank. Sooner or later everything kind of evens out, all debts are paid.

When you are introduced as Scott Hamilton of the United States of America, do you feel you are out there for the United States?

Scott Hamilton: In certain situations. At the World Championships, yes and no.

The World Championships is a place for you to really compete and try to beat other skaters from other countries. At the Olympic Games you are representing the United States. It's a different whole. It's the same skaters, same judges, same size of ice, same music, same everything, same format, same, same, but the one thing that is different is: It's the Olympic Games, and you're sharing your successes and failures with everyone that's a U.S. citizen. And it's theirs, it belongs to them. So when I sit up on the podium and I get my medal and I get to hear my anthem and to see my flag raised, I'm the point person for millions and millions of people, that can for that moment in time just feel pride that one of their own did okay. And you feel like you have like 100 million parents and 100 million brothers and sisters and you share it.

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
It's what makes the Olympics so magic. It's an amazing thing to hear your anthem and to completely lose it. If people at home are losing it too, they're feeling the exact same emotions I was at that same moment. It's their medal too, they share in it. Most other competitions are individual achievements, but the Olympic Games is something that belongs to everybody.

I hope that all athletes feel that way, because it makes it so much richer and so much better an experience to be able to represent a lot of other people. That's what makes the Ryder Cup in golf so much better than the Masters or the U.S. Open. To be a part of something that is not about personal achievement, but about representing everyone and sharing it with the whole country, it's wonderful.

What were you thinking in Sarajevo in '84 when you won the gold medal that time?

Scott Hamilton: It's every emotion you can possibly imagine. It's the joy of reaching your goal. It's the sadness that the goal is over. It's a feeling of triumph that you've won the day. It's a feeling of loss and emptiness, because everything that you've ever worked for is now at an end, and you're looking over this chasm. What's next? It's over. So it's great pride and it's emptiness. It's so conflicting, and they're at the same time. You're feeling all that at once, and it's overwhelming. I couldn't control myself on the stand, because I understood what had happened. I understood where I came from to get to there. I understood I was sharing it with everybody, but as great as it was, it's over. And now, where do I go? What am I going to do with myself?

Everything that was my identity has now come to an end and I'm lost. And The second they put the medal around your neck, that part of your life is over. The process of getting there is so terrific, all the sprains, and strains, and breaks, and fractures, and casts, and bruises, and disastrous performances, and great performances, all that is culminated, over, done. It messes with you a little bit. It's really difficult, but it's wonderful. It's contradictory.

What were you thinking when you got off that stand? When you realized you had achieved this tremendous goal, how did you deal with that question: What's next?

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Scott Hamilton: I look at that whole ceremony now and it kind of defined my direction. Brian Orser won both freestyles. He totally kicked in the long program especially. My strategy was perfect going in. If I win the figures, I'm going to win, unless I really blow up into a million piece, which I didn't think I could do because I'd worked really hard. He skated great and blew me away. I made a couple of mistakes and he won the long. program.

But we get off the podium and I'm feeling all those emotions and we step down and I say, "Brian, can we take a couple of laps?" He says, "Why?" And I say, "I figure this is the last time that you're going to be looking at my back. From now on I think I'll be looking at yours, if we continue to compete against each other. I just want to savor the moment." And he says, "Absolutely." We were the best of friends.

I went around once, and we were waving, and then I saw a guy who had a flag on a conduit pipe. As we went around again I grabbed it, and that was the moment where I felt, "Whatever you're feeling, whatever it is, it's party time. This is a moment to be shared and this is the one way that you can really show the people that this isn't mine, this is ours."

I knew that there were always going to be challenges in front of me. The way I talk to Brian and the way that he offered his support and friendship, that's something that hasn't changed. We're still the best of friends, we still support each other.

The fact that I knew I had to compete against him in three weeks at the World Championships in his home country was another thing. I was lucky to get by him there too. But sharing it with all the people, just bringing up the flag and knowing that maybe I affected some people in a positive way was really wonderful.

Do you feel the love from your fans out in the audience?

Scott Hamilton: Yes, people are very nice to me. I'm very accessible. I don't get into this ego thing. I've watch how other people react to success and how it can undermine their happiness at times. I try to remember that today is special, and that tomorrow is going to be a lot different. Every day is going to be closer to the end of my skating career, so why feel intruded upon if somebody comes up and says hello and offers me a compliment? It's the greatest thing in the world. Sometimes it's a little overwhelming. People are wonderful to me, and I don't always understand why they're so kind and so giving.

I've always tried to share any successes that I've had. And, I've even shared some of the really horrible times, which I think is important, if you want to be a kind of honorary member of somebody's family. And, I just try to share as much as possible. And, when I skate I try to bring people on the ice with me emotionally, not actually physically. But, I want people to know that I'm there for them. That they're not there for me, I'm there for them.

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It's their two hours, and it's the one time we can spend two hours in the same room one-on-one, whether it's 10,000, or 500. I just try to keep it very human and very fun, and humorous, and at times sentimental. I just try to touch people's hearts in a way through skating, so they're not just witnessing a performance, they're feeling a performance and they're a part of it. Maybe that's why people are really nice to me.

Fame is a very confusing thing, because you are recognized by a lot of people that you've never seen before, and they're at a great advantage. They're being very kind and very outgoing, and it's easy to take, but it wears you out. It can be really draining.

Whatever fame or success I'm having today isn't going to be around forever. It's going to go away over time. I don't mind, it just makes you a little paranoid at times. If it's something embarrassing, like you're walking down the street and you slip on a piece of ice and you fall, if it's some total stranger, they're not going to be able to put a face to what happened. But if you're a skater, you're not supposed to do that. They're going to say "Hamilton fell on the ice." All of a sudden 100 people know that you made a fool of yourself. So you've got to be really careful about picking your spots and going places.

It's said that if you fall down it's important that you get up. I'm sure you live that phrase while you're out there.

Scott Hamilton: You're going to fall all the time.

You've got to fall down a lot. You've got to make a lot of mistakes. And you've got to fight for your place in the world, whatever it is. You know, whether it is in business or entertainment or the media or whatever. And you've got to take a lot of knocks and you've got to spill some blood in order to get there. And, that's part of the process.

What do you tell yourself when you have fallen on the ice?

Scott Hamilton: Well, the longer you lie there, the colder you get. So the first thing and the obvious thing is to get up. I always say in my commentary, "The hardest jump in figure skating is the one that follows a fall." Because your confidence is shaken, your timing is obviously off, and that's where you really prove yourself.

If you can fall, get up and do the next triple jump, you've got guts. You've got real good intestinal fortitude. And, it's amazing. It's the same with anything that you do. If you go into a test and you just choke, I mean you look at the paper and the words are just jumbled and you can't figure out -- I know I studied for this, I know I know this stuff. If you can get past that and you can just calm down and slowly, you're feeling the same thing everybody else has felt. You know, if you fall, sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you twist something and you can't really get up right away. Sometimes you get stitches. Sometimes you fall and your pants rip and you're humiliated in front of a large group of people. I mean, anything can happen. You just have to accept that you cannot succeed unless you're willing to fail. And, you fail a lot.

Do you have a most embarrassing moment?

Scott Hamilton: I don't want to share it, but I will since you asked. Who wants to share embarrassing moments? I was in Ice Capades and we were in Philadelphia. , Philadelphia is where I trained, and that's what I represented when I went to the '80 Olympics. I stayed with the Philadelphia Skating Club throughout my amateur career.

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So, I'm in Philadelphia, we're in Ice Capades, and there's about that much water on the ice, because the place is full. And all the skaters came up from Wilmington, Delaware, which is another huge training site. So, it's opening night in a brand new building. We're just getting used to the layout and everything. There's that much water on the ice and I'm wearing my Olympic speed skating suit that I wore, the blue thing with the red. And I'm skating this big Olympic number with aircraft lights behind me and I throw this big shadow.

So I go around, and I'm kind of nervous, and the ice is wet and I don't like wet ice, because it tends to leave marks on your costume when you fall. And I hit the best triple lutz. Boom, swish, bam. Land a triple lutz. I'm showing them how good I am, right?

I go around, and I have a combination of axle, half-loop, mazurka, triple toe. Well, I got up in the air for triple toe, and your feet are supposed to be crossed in the air because it helps you rotate. My feet got stuck and they didn't cross and I got lost in the air. I didn't know where I was. I didn't know if I was going to be around twice, or three times, or whatever. So I opened up just a little bit to get my bearings because you're really spinning fast.

My toes hit the ice forward and it was like a hinge, I went, bam, like right down, like flat, like this, but I put my elbows down so that I wouldn't get hurt, right? So the next thing I do is I go down, then up. And as I went down to go into this spin I noticed that I had two wet marks on my knees, my elbows were soaking wet and right in my crotch was another wet spot. And everything else was dry, and I had to skate for three and a half minutes with these -- and it was really humiliating. It was like I wet my pants and it was just from the fall. And, I had to stay out there for the rest of the performance and people were -- I'd go by them and they'd point, and they'd laugh -- I mean, that's pretty embarrassing.

You get up and you have to finish. You can't say. "I'm embarrassed, so 12,000 people can just sit there and listen to the rest of my music without skating." No. You've got to finish. And as much as you don't want to, you gave somebody a fun memory.

One of the most inspiring parts of your life story is how you conquered adversity and medical problems early on. How do you see that experience?

Scott Hamilton: I really didn't do anything. It wasn't like I faced or conquered anything. I accepted it as a fact of my life that I was sick, or that I wasn't growing. It wasn't a choice thing. It slowly went away. I was very fortunate that there was no surgery involved, not a lot of pain. It was just that I didn't grow. I really had a hard time with food. I was being congratulated for something that nature took care of. What came out of that illness was a lot of time alone at a very early age, which is scary. I had to learn to be independent from the second I could understand what independence was. My mother was there for me every single day, but my parents couldn't be there 24 hours a day, so I was surrounded by strangers in a very scary place.

So of all the things that I'm proud of as far as my illness, it wasn't getting past the illness, it was getting through the day to day life of being away from a normal situation and healthy children. There was a lot of other kids like me who were sick and whose parents were very scared. And it's kind of an odd way to grow up. And so, getting past the illness and dealing with a lot of the hardship around it I think was something that gave me great strength. It wasn't so much that I faced the physical ailment or disability and won, it was: I accepted it and it slowly went away. But, everything that it brought was a little bit challenging.

Do you think that your childhood experience of illness shaped you, or influenced your later life?

Scott Hamilton: Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you. They can give you a value and a self-esteem that is priceless. Everything that I've ever been able to accomplish in skating and in life has come out of adversity and perseverance.

The judge that told me I was too short to compete on the international level. Well, I'll prove her wrong, and I did. Another judge who just didn't really like me that much and was very powerful, always throwing up roadblocks, trying to get me to fail. "No, you can't. If you do this jump in competition, we're going to have to mark you down." So I changed the jump and I'd land a tougher jump to spite her and I'd win the competition.

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
All the things that were meant to kind of pull me down made me better, just out of drive, and intensity and perseverance. Having to get through four years of going undefeated, because I didn't want to show weakness going to the Olympics. You have to get through a lot of competitions and you've got to get by a lot of great talented skaters, and that was very tough.

Or the fact that skating is a woman's sport. When I came into the professional ranks after the Olympics, I was the leading guy coming out of the Olympics, I was the only Olympic gold medalist from the United States, and you'd think there would be opportunities. Peggy Fleming came out and she had television specials, and commercials, and big ice shows. Dorothy Hamill? Television specials, commercials, big ice shows. I came out and it was like, "We don't know what to do with you. We'll make it up as we go along." There were no television specials, no commercials.

Male figure skating is different than female figure skating; we're not America's sweetheart. Nancy Kerrigan comes out of the Olympics as a silver medalist, she gets a television special. All the things that would have been there if I were a woman, weren't there. So I had to create a whole new identity for a professional career. There was no groundwork. Dorothy could build off what Peggy did. And Peggy was a huge superstar, as Dorothy is. But for men it didn't exist.

I went for two years with Ice Capades, and they didn't know how to produce me or anything else. I ended up kind of having to produce myself because they never had to do that before. And then they called me in and they said, "We've just been sold and the gentleman who bought the Ice Capades feels that only a woman will sell tickets and he wishes you well." Basically saying, time for you to find a job somewhere else. And so, once again, the adversity, I had to find a way of reinventing something and I created a show with the help of International Management Group that became, now 10 years later, Stars on Ice. And it's huge, and it's changed figure skating, as the professional ranks and the integrity that I brought -- I don't like bragging, I don't mean to-- to the professional side of the sport like it'd never been done before.

People took it seriously before, but because of scheduling, and because of the physical demands, it's really hard to keep your skating up to that Olympic level. Well, from '84 on people were starting to keep their skating up to the Olympic level. And Brian Boitano -- a brilliant athletic skater -- I helped him. He was able to go and start his own tour and to be accepted as a great professional athlete, where it didn't exist before. We've both been working to build this sport into something brand new, where men have some place to go, where they have credibility. And now it's not just be a female thing.

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
And after 13 seasons of being professional, I've been given a prime time, network television special. I pitched it every year for 12 years and there was just no interest. Through proving yourself over a long period of time people get more comfortable with you. It's not so much that your ego needs this, it's just that when opportunities exist for others, you have to find a way of finessing the system and making it happen for you.

It's always been just getting past the adversity. Finding a challenge, meeting it, finessing, finagling, however you get around it, get around it. But always keep looking ahead. Don't let somebody grab hold of the back of your shirt and hold you back. Just keep going, keep going. Without that kind of adversity I'd be much less of a performer and I probably wouldn't have the career that I have now. I love for people to throw up roadblocks. It gives me direction and it gives me something to challenge and to beat.

When you skate in front of judges, you're opening yourself up to criticism, how do you deal with it?

Scott Hamilton: When you're an amateur, or an "eligible competitor," you take criticism very well. You use it to build your next year's routines. You use it to eliminate any weaknesses the judges may see in you, and it's a very positive thing. Criticism is great. When you turn professional, you become an entertainer, and like every other entertainer, you don't want to get a bad review. So if somebody doesn't like a program, you take it more personally. It's harder to build off of it, because your goals are different as a professional skater than they are as an amateur or an Olympic competitor.

So as an amateur Olympic competitor I loved criticism, because it made me better. But now as a professional I don't really know how to channel it or where to take it, so I don't take it quite as well. I'm more sensitive as a professional. It's like any movie actor that reads how bad they were in a movie. They did the best they could. It wasn't like they were trying to bomb. So I don't take the criticism quite as well now as I did then, because I don't have any place to put it.

Why do you think you got the gold while others did not?

Scott Hamilton: In many cases, I see competitors who don't really understand the entire process and the whole big picture. They individualize everything. It's their own direction in skating, it's the way they want to do it, the music they like, the costume or the outfit they want to wear. It's not what will be accepted and appreciated by a panel of judges.

What do I need to do to win? That's my whole focus. What do I need to do to get the biggest mark? I competed in front of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, United States. Maybe West Germany, maybe not. I only liked to have one German judge, because one of my biggest competitors was German and he'd get both the East German and the West German judge, so I always liked to have only one German judge -- and a British judge.

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
You'd get a split panel, which would end up being five eastern communist countries, against four western. So who are you going to cater to? The five, because they're the majority and you're going to come up with music and interpretation that will be easily accepted and marked by them. You're not going to go in front of China, Czechoslovakia and East Germany skating to Bon Jovi, or some hard rock and roll, or something that they're not exposed to because their culture is different.

You have to cater to the people that are determining your fate and a lot of skaters don't do that. They don't look past themselves. They know what their strengths are and they focus on their strengths, they don't focus on their weaknesses. That's one thing that we always did. We said, "Okay, that's fine, that's going to be okay, let's work on what's really bad. Let's try to create something that nobody else has and let's eliminate all the weaknesses."

What do I need to do to win? Well, I need to win the figures. I'm not a very good compulsory figure skater, it's a lot of figure eights. Well, guess what?, I have to be. So let's spend five hours a day doing figures. On a piece of ice that's fresh, brand new, no lines, no anything, you have to draw the perfect size circles. Both circles have to be the same size, they have to be lined up, the centers have to be neat, everything has to be perfect. That takes time. I had to really apply myself, knowing that if I won the compulsory figures it was mine. It was a strategy. A lot of skaters don't use strategy and don't like to build on their weaknesses, because it's not fun to do that.

They also don't look at who they're skating for and the judges that are going to be determining their fate. They say, "Well, this is me and this is what I like. I'm a rock 'n roll kind of guy, so it's going to be a rock 'n roll kind of thing." And then they get some judges, thinking "What the heck is that?" And they don't win. You got to look at the panel, and you've got to make sure that you connect, present something they can easily digest, and make their job of judging easy. They'll love you if you give them something they can give a good mark to.

What advice would you give to young people just starting out in their careers?

Scott Hamilton: It always feels better when you make a short-term goal, and you succeed. If you get into business and say you want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in two years, you're probably not going to get there, unless you have really explicit Polaroids or something.

If you have a specific lofty goal, it's going to take time to get there. But you're going to have to hit a lot of short-term goals on the way. And so, anything I tell young people, especially skaters is, "Worry about Sunday. Worry about next month. Don't worry about five years from now. Don't get into skating your first day thinking you're going to win an Olympic gold medal, because the odds are you're going to be heartbroken."

I you need goals to go after, go after short-term achievable goals. If you really want to push yourself, shorten the time limit on that goal and it will make you more intense and it will make you work harder. Short-term goals, lots of them, hundreds of short-term goals. It will feed your ego, it will feed your self-esteem, and you'll be able to feel good about yourself every day.

What do you know now about achievement that you did not know when you were younger?

Scott Hamilton: Doug Wilson, who is the director of figure skating coverage for ABC Sports, told me when I got off the ice, "Your life has just changed forever. It will never be the same." Doug and I have been friends for years, and I said, "I really don't understand what you're saying, but thanks, I guess." I didn't really get it.

What I didn't know is how many people you touch when you achieve a certain level of success in anything. You touch thousands and millions of people and you affect them. And you don't maybe know them, but they know you. And what I had no idea was that all those hours I was spending tracing compulsory figures and pushing myself through a long program in altitude, all that work would touch so many people and that my life would never be that again. When you walk down the street and people know who you are. That you've touched people and inspired them, maybe somebody that may be struggling with something. You connect with them somehow. It makes their life a little bit better. I had no idea that any of this was possible. Or that, anything I would ever do would affect anybody. And that's the one thing I've learned through the whole process of winning competitions, and going to the Olympics, and being a pro and really trying to direct the sport in new ways and creating new opportunities, is that when you touch a lot of people, it's like that George Bailey thing from It's A Wonderful Life. You touch people, and you change things and you affect them.

I really never understood that when I was training and working towards these goals, that wasn't just about me, it was about a lot of other people. And that turns into a responsibility of its own later on, but only after you understand and get more comfortable with it.

What do you consider your greatest moment?

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
Scott Hamilton: There have been so many. It's easier to look back on the whole thing, than it is to pick one moment. There are a lot of the moments that make up the whole thing. I think of carrying the flag at the medal ceremony in Sarajevo. I think of carrying the flag in the opening ceremonies in Lake Placid. I mean, I was the third guy out of three that were sent to the Olympics. Unheard of, nobody really knew who I was or anything else, and I'm elected by all the athletes to carry the flag in the opening ceremonies. That was a major moment. To lead the Olympic team in, to dream about being on an Olympic team and then making it, and then having the athletes give you the honor of carrying the flag in. It was a huge thrill.

My life in skating has been a fantasy. It's been an adventure, and it's been challenging, and it's been rewarding and I look back on it, and it easy to delete the negatives. But as work, from the time I first made the Olympic team up till now, it's been a challenge. I look at that as a moment in time that's very special. I'm grateful for everything every single day. Count your blessings, I do.

How do you go about selecting your music?

Scott Hamilton: I'll just hear something and it will touch me. It creates the identity of the piece, and then you can go from there. In my pro career we've done a lot of wild things. I like to do humorous things, and I do a few dramatic things. The Battle Hymn of the Republic for the Statue of Liberty ceremony in '86 was a huge thing for me. That was a number that took on a whole new meaning, because I dedicated it to the world figure skating team that went down in the plane crash in 1961.

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
We've also done programs that are just really kind of goofy, a lot of gimmicks. I did a lounge lizard number a few years ago that had gimmick, after gimmick, after gimmick. I did a classical piece as a conductor where everything fell apart. It was a Hungarian rhapsody, and the music was so overpowering, that sleeves would fall off and tails would end up in the front. I had to use an oxygen mask to get through the end of the program. I am follically deficient. So I figured I'd play on that a little bit and I did a number to the song "Hair" from the Broadway musical. I start off as a hippie and I end up in three and a half minutes as a businessman. I go from bell-bottoms, to pinstripe suit with a tie. I'm going to completely change the image of opera forever with a piece of music. If the program is as funny as the music, it will be one of my favorites of all time.

On the flip-side, I also found a real dramatic piece, heart wrenching and dramatic. I'm hoping that I have enough inside to really be able to pull it off. I'm always looking for new challenges, always looking for ways to be unpredictable. After being out there in a big public way for 16 or 17 years, you've done a lot. It's kind of hard to kind of put on a new face every year. You have to give audiences something different every year, otherwise they get sick of looking at you and it's like, "Next!"

What else would you like to achieve?

Scott Hamilton: I never want to be President of the United States. I never want a 9 to 5 job. I never want to win an Academy Award. I never want to win a Nobel Prize. I never want to win a Pulitzer Prize. That's for other people. I want to entertain.

I really want to do a stage show in New York. That's the only thing left. I've already got my TV special.

When I'm done touring arenas I would really like to just have an ensemble of incredible skaters and do a really unique skating show on Broadway. That's my dream, I'd love to do that, and just incorporate everything I've learned and experienced. I can handle music, I can handle dialogue, I can handle -- I don't know if I can sing, but I can handle movement, I can handle all those things. And New York loves figure skating. And that's the one thing that I've dreamt of that I've always wanted to do that I haven't really taken huge steps to doing yet, because I've been so busy with everything else.

That's all that's left on the ice. After that I want to have a family. That's important. Once I'm done with all the "me, me, me" stuff, I really would like to have a "them, them, them, you" stuff. I'm looking forward to settling down. But I really want to finish out all these dreams, so I don't look back in ten or 20 years and say, "If I had only would have done that one thing I didn't do." Life is very short and there are certain times in life that are very specific and you have to be true to those times. I've kind of extended my adolescence. I'm 37 and I'm still doing the same thing I was doing when I was 9-years-old. So the last thing and the only thing I really want to do on ice is a Broadway show.

Who do you admire?

Scott Hamilton: I admire a lot of people for different things. Robert Zemeckis has had a body of work that just amazes me, just the diversity and the way that he's introduced new things into film. He's inventive, he's not doing things that have been done a thousand times, he's doing things for the first time. George Lucas , another film maker. I look at Star Wars and everything that he's done, how he's changed the way people feel about the entertainment business. And George Bush,, I admire him. I think he's got character, I think he's a quality person. I think that he's been a great family man, he's been true to his word, and he's had great integrity. I admire people like that.

Among sports people, I think Joe Montana is a great role model and a phenomenal story, the way he kept coming back and proving himself. And being the best at his position of all time, without all the controversy and all the stuff that can go with being the best at what you do. What happens off the field sometimes affects that, and he's always been above all that. I admire him a great deal. There are a lot of people I admire. Robin Williams' talent. And Bruce Springsteen.

I've grown up listening to Bruce Springsteen. And he pretty much defined my work ethic to a crowd. If you've ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert, you leave exhausted and you can't wait to see him again. And that is a mentality and kind of a work ethic that I always wanted to have when I do one of our live shows at Stars on Ice. I always wanted to have that intensity and that "I'm bringing everybody on the ice with me," so that they'd want to come back and see it again. I didn't want to just entertain an audience, I wanted to build an audience, and Bruce Springsteen gave me that.

So there's a lot of heroes out there, from all different walks of life.

Who do you admire in the skating world?

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
Scott Hamilton: I admire Kristi Yamaguchi. Great integrity, consistency, focus, wonderful person, cares about kids and children. Irina Rodnina from Russia, the greatest pair skater of all time, as far as the level of success. Gordeeva and Grinkov were the greatest pair team of all time, and I admire them a great deal. We lost Sergei, but Katia is somebody that I really admire for her strength and her devotion, not only to the sport, but to the people around her, and what she's been able to give out of her tragedy.

There's a lot of great, great skaters out there that, and not just for what they do on the ice. Brian Boitano has had great athletic integrity and he understands the responsibility of his craft. He's been able to keep his skating up at a level for a long period of time that has never been done before. These are people that I admire.

Janet Lynn was one that loved to skate and just shared the joy of being on the ice with everybody around her. But when it came time to have a family, she said, "I can either make a million dollars on the road, or I can stay home, shop at garage sales and raise my children. I think I'm going to stay home with my kids and not make the money." That showed me a great deal.

The first time I ever met her I was 12 years old. She looked at me, and she introduced herself and she was a four time national champion. I was nervous. I'd never been in the same room with this person before, I never saw her skate, but she sits down next to me as the new kid in the rink and she gave me all sorts of advice that I've never forgotten. That was a gift, and I admire her so much. What an amazing person, and so generous. And when it came time to make the decision, she made the right one, and I admire her for that.

What is your idea of the American Dream?

Scott Hamilton: The American Dream right now is getting a little bit muddled. It seems to be caught up in materialism. Success is now money. Success is now power and position.

I think the American Dream is that you can do whatever you want with your life. You can pave your own path, you can do whatever you want, and you're free to do that. If you want to be a brain surgeon, you can be a brain surgeon. If you want to live on a beach, you can live on a beach. If you want to, you can do whatever you want and every life is unique. Everybody that lives in this country has their own story, has their own talent, their own ability, their own desires and interests and tastes, and they have the opportunity to explore those without any restriction.

The American Dream is that you can dream. And you can achieve those dreams without anybody standing in your way.

How have people around the world reacted to you over the years?

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
Scott Hamilton: The more I travel, the more I understand that people are the same, fundamentally. They all want to be loved. Everybody wants to enjoy their food. Everybody wants to be entertained. People from all over the world love to laugh. We're all the same, it's just governments and religions that pull us apart.

We all want our families, we all want the good things. We all want to laugh and we want to live in comfort and we want to experience and feel the joys of accomplishment. And I think everybody holds those things, whether you live in Mongolia, or South Dakota, or Paris, or the Ivory Coast.

Laughter, love, acceptance and accomplishment, those are all things that feed the best parts of our soul. I think everybody holds those in common. If we could just get past the color of our skin, or our hair, or religion, if we can just look beyond those things and look at each other as human beings, I think we'd be a lot better off.

That's one thing I learned meeting people from East Germany. There was one man that was in charge of housing us and feeding us in East Germany. He was so much fun to be around. We'd sit down and occasionally try the local beverage, and laugh, and enjoy each other's company. Their style of government, and the way they were taught to live there was much different than mine, but we still found things to talk about, things to laugh about, and it was always fun.

You go to Japan and it's a whole different culture. You can't read the street signs, and you get lost easily, and it's so many people, but you sit down and you have a meal and you laugh, and you find things to discuss and things that are of common interest. People are all basically the same. When the world starts to get a little bit smaller, I sense people trying to fight for their own turf a little bit. They want to be different, and it's hard. We're all a minority, but we're all the majority, and we should find more ways of finding the common ground where we can all just enjoy life.

Thank you so much.

This page last revised on Mar 25, 2009 11:40 EST