Hamilton Turns Darkness into Light

By Liz Leamy

Scott Hamilton seems to typify the concept that it is always darkest before the dawn in looking at his many achievements and also personal challenges.

Yes, the 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medallist is famously known for having catapulted to the top of the domestic and international skating realm after having dealt with serious illnesses as a youngster, including a mystery ailment for which his parents had been told he had only six months to live at one point.

Without question, Hamilton has lived a life that has been anything but short on drama and it is some of the lesser-known stories about his life that are perhaps the most interesting.

Back in 1977, Hamilton competed at the U.S. Championships in Hartford, Connecticut. As the 1975 U.S. Novice and 1976 U.S. Junior titlist, he had been considered a possible medal contender in the Championship menís event.

Things didnít turn out so well for him, however. In the first portion of the competition, the school figures, he finished in the lower half and followed it up with a flawed free skate and wound up in ninth place.

Years later when that event was brought up with Hamilton, he just shook his head and apologized for his performance.  Interestingly, that event would mark perhaps the most critical juncture in his competitive career and prompt him to make a move that would change his life.

Once the 1977 Nationals had resumed, Hamilton went back to Colorado Springs, to continue training with late Carlo Fassi, the celebrated World and Olympic coach at the Broadmoor Arena.  Although Fassi was an exceptional by every account, Hamilton felt the power-house coach was unable to give him the time, energy or attention he needed to fulfill his potential. In addition, Fassi had also taken on Scott Cramer as a new student, who was an up-and coming U.S. menís contender and one of Hamiltonís most formidable on-ice foes.

By late spring, Hamilton had decided to uproot himself from his training base in Colorado Springs so he could work full time with Don Laws, the esteemed U.S. coach, who at the time, was located just outside of Philadelphia.  This move turned out to be a brilliant one. Right from the outset, the two clicked and the results were nothing short of extraordinary.

The two provided the perfect complement to one other. Laws, the cerebral academic offset the more unpredictable, precocious ways of his charge.  According to Laws, the key for reaching his student was to set some strict boundaries right from the start.  "I told Scott his personal life was none of my concern as long as it didnít interfere with his training," said Don Laws. "All I asked was that he show up and work and he did."

The next year, Hamilton had a breakthrough season. He won the 1978 Midwestern sectionals, a bronze medal at the U.S Championships and was 11th at Worlds.  In 1979, he placed fourth at the U.S. Championships and did not qualify for the World team, but rebounded in 1980 with a third-place finish at the U.S, Championships and two respective fifth placements at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and at Worlds.

The next fall going into the 1981 season, Hamilton claimed the menís title at the inaugural Skate America competition in Lake Placid, and at that point, it had become crystal clear that he was primed to take the helm of menís elite skating.

Laws recalled that time as a special one.  "We had such an interesting relationship and a great time together, he is just a great guy who focuses intensely on something when he makes up his mind and also makes it fun," said Laws.

During these transformative years, tragedy struck Hamiltonís life, however, when he had lost his mother, Dorothy. Her passing had a profound impact on Hamilton, especially since she had dedicated so much of her life to his skating.  Rather than giving up, Hamilton instead chose to use this situation as a source of inspiration for his skating and began to work harder than ever.

In 1981, Hamilton captured his first U.S. and World titles, a feat he continued to duplicate for the next three years through 1984, the year he took Olympic gold in Sarajevo.  After the Olympics, Hamilton retired from amateur skating and went on to have a phenomenal professional career. For two years, he performed with the Ice Capades, and than created "Scott Hamiltonís American Tour," which became Smuckers Stars on Ice.  Hamilton co-founded, co-produced and starred in Stars on Ice for 15 years. He retired from the show in 2001, but still makes guest appearances.

In 2004,Hamilton was diagnosed with benign brain tumor and was treated at the Cleveland Clinic. Since then, he has been successful with his recovery. Again, he fought to get better and it worked.  Today, he, his wife, Tracie, who he has been married to since 2002, have been busy raising their two sons, Aidan, five, and Maxx Hamilton, one, at their sprawling home in Nashville, Tennessee, an experience Hamilton said he is grateful to have.

These past few weeks, Hamilton temporarily relocated his base to Vancouver to do figure skating commentary for NBC at the Olympics, something he has done since 1985.  Although he has been criticized over the years for using too many superlatives and being overly emotional as a commentator, he has lasted because of his dedication.

As with everything else in his life, Hamilton has done whatever it takes to maximize the moment for viewers, and for that reason alone, he deserves major accolades.

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