On Saturday night, along came the senior men in their big finale. "I'm coming out firing," said Santee, showing off his new aggressiveness. His feisty mood had come from watching Rocky, which, as movies will sometimes do, had hit Santee at just the right impressionable moment in his life. He had memorized the whole story, absorbed its overcome-all-odds moral, and had even added the theme song to his skating routine. All of which was fine with Hamilton, who was slightly ahead in the standings going into the long-program finals and had tensions of his own to think about. He paced backstage, cracking his knuckles nervously and practicing his whiplike look. "It ain't over until it's over," Hamilton said, "but right now"...snap, crack..."I can hardly wait."
What followed was perhaps symbolic of the new mood in figure skating: it was an old-fashioned barn burner. Santee indeed came out firing, executing jump after jump—triple-flip, triple-toe, walley combination, triple salchow, triple-toe loop—coming down off the last one shaking a defiant fist at the ceiling, a la Sylvester Stallone, while the audience went bonkers. He stirred in some spins and loops, all his good stuff, and finished to a standing ovation.
Could Hamilton top an act like that? Well, yes. At one time somewhere in his exercise he was step-spinning so fast he threatened to rise into the air like a helicopter. Add to that a handful of truly soaring triple leaps and a Heinz 57 of axels and lutzes, and the crowd leaped to its feet for another whooping ovation. The judges agreed, displaying a passel of 5.9s on their cards, plus two perfect 6s, the only ones awarded at the meet and the first ever in Hamilton's career. That did it.
The new national champ was Hamilton, the silver medalist, Santee. The bronze went to Robert Wagenhoffer of Fontana, Calif., and it should be noted here and now that Wagenhoffer is a new flash who will one day wipe the other two out. "It was one of those nights," said Santee. "It was like there was a certain magic in the air and one guy passed it on to the next guy."
Fair enough. It was a fitting end to a skating meet in this new era of combativeness. One must also note that the pairs title, held for five years by Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia, was, as expected, passed along without too much struggle to Peter and Caitlin Carruthers of Wilmington, Del., a brother-and-sister act. But after all, the meet had to have a few unsuspenseful moments.
So what lies ahead for this new order? Well, here's a clue: the morning after the women's finals, America's new champion turned out for an early breakfast. Zayak was wearing her brand-new mature look. She was also wearing a pair of signature-model designer jeans, high-heeled clogs and earrings and bracelets. Awwwwws behind her, here she comes.