- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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To know yourself is the ultimate form of aggression.
The little boy is standing beside a road near Denver, watching the cars go by. One can see him from a block away, a slight, sandy-haired tyke, pleasant looking, a cinch to have a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose. Why, goodness sakes, this could be Scott Hamilton as a boy—a wistful lad standing beside Life's Great Highway, wishing he were somewhere else. And then, as the Mazda RX-7 downshifts and swings around the corner, the kid suddenly holds up both hands, grinning evilly, and flashes his two middle fingers in the classic double bird.
Inside the car there's a moment of thoughtful silence. Then the real Scott Hamilton says, "You know, that's the nice thing about being a celebrity. You get greeted so warmly wherever you go."
There's another welcome a few minutes later at lunch, in a tiny restaurant with a terminally cute name: The Happy Cooker. The waitress hovers over the table, alternately offering and pulling back a bowl of soup as Hamilton reaches for it. "You're someone," she says. Hamilton nods; he's indeed someone. The soup is offered again.
Then she pulls it back. "Skater!" she says. When Hamilton nods a second time, she offers the soup, but just as he's about to get his hands on it, she pulls it back once more. "Who?" she says. "I've seen you on television." Hamilton nods in desperation. "Did I look hungry?" he asks. Then she bursts out: "Scott Hamilton!" She wheels around to make sure that everybody in the kitchen is aware of this. The other diners fall silent. The waitress, soup in hand, now has her back to Hamilton. "That's another nice thing about being famous," he says. "You always get served promptly in restaurants."
Hamilton appears in brief bursts: here, then gone again. Somehow, it's fitting; he's as short as his appearances, 5'3" in height and 4½ minutes in his freestyle figure skating routine. In the few moments he's around, the mind leaps vainly to catch and hold him.
He comes off the ice, having performed patently impossible things, graceful arabesques and aerial curlicues, moves that are his alone. He has poured so much of himself into his routine that the color has drained from his face. He's pale and gasping. Even before he can breathe freely, Hamilton says, "Welcome to the wonderful world of pain."
Of the approximately 130 U.S. Winter Olympic athletes now on their way to Sarajevo—established champions, fierce challengers and hangers-on—none is subject to such close scrutiny and adoring pressure as Hamilton. For here's the nation's Mr. Gold Medal, the mortal lock who seems to be skating for all of us—a role that has been thrust upon him in the past year or so.
Hamilton's style is so uniquely American that he calls it "apple pies and Chevrolets." With it, he has won the world title for the past three years, a reign unmatched by an American male since David Jenkins in 1957 through '59. Hamilton is undefeated since 1980. Now come the Winter Olympics, where no U.S. male has won a figure skating gold medal since Jenkins at Squaw Valley.
"Let's go get a beer," he says. And then, "No, wait. You drink a beer, and I'll have, I don't know, a Coke or something. I'm not going to have a drink until the night of March 23, after the men's worlds finals. You like Mexican food? I've got a place where the burritos are guaranteed to give you the Rocky Mountain Quick Step."