Posted: Thursday December 8, 2005 2:30PM; Updated: Thursday December 8, 2005 2:54PM
SI.com: You were the last American man to win a gold medal in figure skating. What's happened to the American men?
Boitano: It doesn't seem like there's anyone who really wants it. The fire doesn't seem to be there. All the U.S. men have their own individual problems, but Russia's Evgeny Plushenko is just bowling everyone over. It may have started when the USFSA started paying big money to skaters so they wouldn't turn pro and would compete in USFSA-sanctioned events. Their goal was to kill professional skating, and in some ways they succeeded. But it took away a lot of incentive. All of a sudden a skater didn't have to be a world champion to make healthy six figure incomes. So instead of training really hard and cutting back on competitions, which is the best way to improve, the skaters were thinking: I'm making good money, now. I'm successful. This is the life I want. That's changed now. The USFSA has lost their big money television contracts, and they aren't paying skaters anywhere near what they did a few years ago. They can't. You never see figure skating in prime time anymore.
SI.com: How much did you get from the USFSA when you were competing?
Boitano: Not much. Maybe $1,000 my whole career, and I had to pay that back once I turned pro.
SI.com: So who do you like among the men?
Boitano: Plushenko. He's aggressive and very athletic. He's gutsy. He's got real panache to his skating. He pushes himself. He wants it. I like Plushenko a lot.
SI.com: Do you think Kwan should still be competing?
Boitano: I told Michelle after Nagano in '98 she should retire and skate professionally with me. I said the same thing to her after Salt Lake City. So I'm through giving her advice. At this point, I'm just going to support her. She still has a lot to contribute. Her record speaks for itself, and she's one skater who's body of work will stand the test of time.
SI.com: How about Sasha Cohen?
Boitano: Sasha gets a raw deal from the press. She makes one mistake in her program and people rip her for not pulling it off when it counts. But she never falls apart. She never just completely folds and misses everything. Usually it's just one mistake. That said, it is frustrating that often she misses one of her easiest elements. But the judges will reward her if she skates clean.
SI.com: And the defending world champion, Irina Slutskaya?
Boitano: I like Slutskaya. She looked strong at Skate Canada. She just seems so much more relaxed on the ice. After her illness in 2004 from vasculitis, a very serious heart condition, she thinks, "Hey, I could be dead." So she just throws it all to the wind.
SI.com: So who are you picking for the gold?
Boitano: I have to pick Michelle to win. I just have to.
SI.com: What do you think about the new Code of Points scoring system?
Boitano: I don't have to skate under it, so I haven't studied it that closely. All I know is it's getting bad reviews from the skaters who do follow it closely. What I hear backstage is they're worried it will encourage even more cheating, since the scores are posted anonymously. And the skaters are all performing the same elements, choosing the ones with the highest point values.
SI.com: I was at Skate America and I never saw a decent scratch spin, one of those spins where the skater's becomes a blur, which can bring the fans out of their seats. That's because it's considered an easy spin and they don't get many points for for it, no matter how well it's done.
Boitano: I know it! So the programs all start to all look the same. I watched one free skating competition, and I thought I was watching a short program. Everyone was doing exactly the same elements. They aren't taking chances, either. The tricks they're doing are safer because they get no credit for an element they miss. How many quads did you see at last year's world championships? One? And the women aren't trying triple-triples anymore. I don't want to see triple-double-double combinations. I want to see triple-triples.
SI.com: It doesn't sound like you're a Code of Points fan.
Boitano: All I know is when Irina Slutskaya gets a 251.73, or whatever, I look up at the scoreboard and think: I don't know what that means. We want to see that the Russian judge put down a 5.7, so we can boo, because that's what we like to do. It's going to hurt the sport's popularity. If the American public doesn't understand what a triple salchow is after all these years, they'll never get the Code of Points.