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What would Brian Boitano do?

Q&A with the biggest celebrity in U.S. men's skating

Posted: Thursday December 8, 2005 2:30PM; Updated: Thursday December 8, 2005 2:54PM
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Brian Boitano achieved celebrity status in Calgary '88, where he won a gold medal.
Brian Boitano achieved celebrity status in Calgary '88, where he won a gold medal.
Manny Millan/SI
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When Brian Boitano defeated Canada's Brian Orser in 1988 to win the gold medal at the Calgary Olympics -- he is the last American male skater to win one -- it propelled him to a professional career that, 17 years later, is still thriving.

On New Year's Day he will again host The Brian Boitano Skating Spectacular on NBC, a show that will be taped Dec. 17 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and will feature such stars as Nancy Kerrigan, Todd Eldredge, David Pelletier and Jamie Sale, plus musicians Chris Botti and Richard Marx.

I had the good fortune of covering Calgary's memorable Battle of the Brians and knew Boitano before he'd achieved cult-hero status as the star of the South Park anthem (What Would Brian Boitano Do?), and I recently sat down with the skater to ask him about the state of his sport, and his picks for the forthcoming Games.

SI.com: Television ratings are way down for figure skating compared to a few years ago. What's going on?

Boitano: The oversaturation of the sport on television about seven years ago really didn't help. There was so much garbage on the air. Skaters didn't say no to anything. Plus the public's attention span is so short right now, if a skater doesn't strike while the iron is hot ... well it's not like people will forget you, but they just won't care anymore. There haven't really been any compelling new faces coming out of the Olympics recently who kept pushing themselves and trying to improve. The Olympics are great for notoriety right off the bat, but your body of work is what people remember you for. That's what's important. The younger kids don't really understand that.

SI.com: One of the problems is, with the exception of Michelle Kwan, today's skaters stop competing before the public really gets to know them. Tara Lipinski was 15 when she won her gold medal. Sarah Hughes was 16. They're here and they're gone. You were in three Olympics. So was Katarina Witt. People saw you grow and mature before their eyes.

Boitano: It was such a great cast of stars who came out of those '88 Olympics. Kat. Brian Orser. Myself. Viktor Petrenko. Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. We were all new, fresh faces, and when we toured it was so exciting, like rock stars. Kat and I were in our 20s when we won in '88. Our personalities were already established. We were ready to move on to a life of professional skating. Now they're so young when they make that transition. I talked to Sarah Hughes when she was on tour last year, and she said, "Wow, this professional skating's really hard." She really hadn't expected that. It's not hard in terms of pressure, but it is in other ways: the rehearsals, the constant travel. It wears you down if you don't take really good care of yourself.

SI.com: You're 42 now. Are you still doing a triple axel?

Boitano: That's the one jump I really don't do anymore. Too much pounding and wear and tear on my body in practice. I still do all the other triple jumps.

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