Late again. Christopher Bowman, the 22-year-old heartthrob of American figure skating, national men's champion, successor to Brian Boitano and Scott Hamilton, second in the world championships in 1989, charmer, clown and unrelenting gadabout—is late again for practice.
Not terribly late. A few minutes, no more. Still, his coach, Frank Carroll, who has taught, cajoled, threatened and occasionally throttled Bowman, and stuffed him into a trash can, and, barely, survived his 17 years of coaching him, is not amused. "You see, this is the sort of thing I mean," Carroll says. "We have 45 minutes of private ice. Christopher has only had to walk 100 yards to get here. And let's see how long it takes before he finally is ready to skate. I don't see total commitment from Christopher. I'm not sure he's dedicated enough to be one of the alltime greats."
Bowman, stretching on the warmup bar, knows that Carroll is discussing him and mugs like a schoolboy behind the principal's back. He makes the sort of face that is almost impossible to resist, conspiratorial in nature, guilt-free, disrespectful in a fun-loving way and full of the devil. It is not an expression one expects to see on a world-class athlete, but in a seventh-grade study hall it would bring down the house.
Bowman has not skated in five weeks, and he has exactly one month left before he defends his national title in Salt Lake City. Plenty of time, plenty of time. He is about five pounds overweight, not unusual for him at this time of year, but it is Carroll's pet peeve. He is short of stamina from his layoff, hasn't touched a barbell in months, has avoided his dance classes like the plague and on top of it all is suffering from a cold he picked up two nights earlier while traipsing around Lake Arrowhead, Calif.—which is where he trains—in search of a tow truck after his car had skidded off an icy road. "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" is how he describes the mishap.
"O.K., now the training starts," he says theatrically, as he puts a cassette into the tape machine and takes the ice 10 minutes after the appointed hour. "Now we get serious."
Wrongggg. The driving beat of Your Momma Don't Dance ("...and your daddy don't rock and roll") begins to reverberate, full-blast, through the arena. Another coach, another skater, smile. Bowman, boogying around the ice, grins.
Carroll, smoldering, turns off the music and scowls. He is thinking: Where is Linda Fratianne when I need her? Carroll coached Fratianne from 1970 to 1980, and she was a perfect angel of a pupil. Always on time. Respectful, sweet and a national champion to boot. What had he done to deserve this?
Carroll switches tapes, putting on the music for Bowman's short program, a piece that is meant to suggest an Indian war dance. "It sounds like an Indian with a hatchet in his hand," Carroll says dryly, "which is sort of like Christopher's personality."
Two hours later, Carroll throws the national men's champion off the ice for talking with another skater during the workout and then making an impertinent remark. "No more arguing with him," Carroll sighs. "No spooning him pabulum. If he doesn't want to train, he can take his skates off. I'm not going to hold his hand. Christopher is a wonderful person, has great personality and can charm the skin off a snake. But to get him out on a day-to-day basis, to get improvement from him, to get him to love what he's doing is sheer hell. There's no doubt he's the most talented boy in the world, but he has an awful lot to sort out."
One of the things Bowman could start with is why he should change his footloose, happy-go-lucky ways when, to date, they have served him so well. Finishing second to Canada's Kurt Browning—he of the quadruple revolutions—in the 1989 world championships in Paris is not exactly the Ice Follies. Especially in light of the fact that when they met again last October, Bowman beat Browning in the Skate America competition. Much as coaches hate to admit it—and Carroll does—some kids are practice skaters whose legs turn to noodles in front of 13,000 people. Others, like Bowman ( Debi Thomas is another), can't seem to get their laces tied properly until the spotlight hits them. Then—zap!—they are transformed into, as Bowman puts it, "a Hans Brinker from hell."