Hamilton lures all 13 U.S. Olympic gold medalists
Despite Hurricane Sandy, 'An Evening With Scott Hamilton and Friends' gets full attendance
|From Tenley Albright to Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton recruited skating's best in Cleveland. (Amy Rosewater)|
Scott Hamilton let out a huge sigh of relief as he opened his 13th annual cancer benefit ice show Saturday night.
And with good reason.
In addition to organizing his show, which has generated more than $14 million toward cancer research at the Cleveland Clinic, he took on another huge task -- bringing all 13 U.S. Olympic figure skating gold medalists to Cleveland. He wanted to do something big for his 13th annual An Evening With Scott Hamilton and Friends show, and he did.
In the end, not even Hurricane Sandy could prevent him from achieving his goal. All 13 champions were in attendance -- from Dick Button to Dorothy Hamill to Evan Lysacek -- and it proved to be a night to remember for everyone involved. In addition, he managed to bring country star Wynonna Judd to Cleveland as the show's musical guest, and she was one of the most impressive talents to ever perform in the event.
"Tonight is a culmination of a lot of frustration and stress," Hamilton told his guests at a post-event dinner. "But I am so proud to be standing here at the end of our 13th year, knowing we did it.
"I think about this event every day," he added. "And all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you."
Hamilton, a native of Bowling Green, Ohio, who was treated for testicular cancer and a brain tumor at the Cleveland Clinic, has adopted Cleveland as a hometown. He and his wife, Tracie, and sons Aidan and Maxx, live outside Nashville, Tenn., but he comes to Cleveland periodically for doctor check-ups.
Getting everyone to Cleveland was a task in and of itself. He began planning for the event about a year ago and knew finding a date that would work for all 12 of his busy friends would be difficult. But then, Hurricane Sandy threw even the best-made plans for a loop.
Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic champion, managed to fly to Cleveland from her home in Manhattan, even though Hurricane Sandy powered its way through New York City. She was even able to bring her mother, Amy Hughes, a breast cancer survivor who has been in remission for nearly 15 years -- and lives on Long Island -- in for the event. Tara Lipinski, the 1998 gold medalist, and two-time champion Dick Button also came in from New York.
Tenley Albright, the 1956 Olympic gold medalist, said she was worried she would not be able to make it to Cleveland since she was in Atlanta the previous day and her flight stopped in Philadelphia, but she did.
And several of the champions came in from the West Coast. Kristi Yamaguchi had been scheduled to tape a TV show in Atlantic City on Friday, but that show was canceled because of the storm. As a result, she was able to fly into Cleveland from her home in the Bay Area.
Lysacek, meanwhile, had been one of the last pieces of the puzzle because he is still training for the Olympic Winter Games. He missed his competitive return at Skate America last month with a groin injury, but said he will be back on the ice Tuesday and hopes to compete in an international event sometime next month.
Even the Olympic champions who live in Cleveland had a tough challenge this week. Hurricane Sandy ravaged through much of the city along Lake Erie, and Carol Heiss Jenkins and Hayes Jenkins, both Olympic gold medalists who live on the West Side of town, lost power for nearly 30 hours and ended up with a flooded basement. The Winterhurst Ice Rink, located in Lakewood where Heiss Jenkins still coaches skaters, lost power.
Still, they did everything in their power to make it downtown because of Hamilton.
"We have been to this show every year," said Heiss Jenkins, who was 16 when she lost her mother to cancer. "We wouldn't have missed it this year."
The event was even more special to the Jenkins family since her daughter, Laurie, came in from upstate New York to surprise her parents and uncle to attend the event.
All of the Olympians were honored midway through the show, and video highlights of their careers were shown on large screens in the Quicken Loans Arena, known locally as "The Q." Beginning with Lysacek, each Olympic champion introduced one another in reverse chronological order. One by one, they praised Hamilton, and some told of their connections to cancer.
Albright, a doctor and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, was especially emotional in her tribute speech to Hamilton, since she had been a longtime mentor to him and had visited him in the hospital.
Peggy Fleming, a breast cancer survivor, told the audience, "This does show how much we all love Scott."
Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion, meanwhile, made his first appearance in Hamilton's show. The two have been friends and even were Olympic teammates in 1984 when Hamilton won his gold medal, but scheduling conflicts prevented Boitano from coming to the show in the past. Boitano and Hamill were the only two of the gold medalists to perform in the show. Hamilton said both skaters asked to perform; he didn't want anyone to feel pressured into skating.
Boitano's performance turned out to be one of the most memorable of the evening. Skating to "I Want to Know What Love is," he stumbled out of a triple salchow and left the ice midway through the program. Judd kept looking backstage to see what was happening, and then Boitano returned and strung together two double Axels and a single Axel.
Boitano wasn't injured, and his coach and manager Linda Leaver said the absence was planned because the song was seven-minutes long. But Judd, whose voice is so strong and commanding, wasn't letting Boitano off the hook so easily. She told him to come back on the ice and repeat his triple, the one she said he fell on.
"My butt didn't touch the ice," Boitano said.
She didn't care.
Boitano promptly sat on the ice, causing the crowd to roar with laughter.
Then she began to sing again and he went out and landed his triple.
Hamilton joked at his post-event dinner that it took 13 years to get Boitano to skate in his show and about 12 minutes to convince his friend not to do it again.
As Boitano said, "There had to be some good to come from Scott getting cancer, and I would have to say this event is one of them."
Although the Olympic champions were the headliners, there were several talented skaters in the cast as well. Ashley Wagner, the reigning U.S. champion, made her debut in Hamilton's show. Alissa Czisny, who won her first of two national titles in Cleveland in 2009, performed even though she is still recuperating from a hip injury and had just returned to training in September.
"It's such an honor to be a part of this show," said Czisny, who was her usual exquisite self but struggled with her jumps. "I'm getting better. This is the first time I have really done anything. It hasn't been an easy process but hopefully, I will be ready for NHK [Trophy] (Nov. 23-25)."
Jeremy Abbott, the three-time U.S. champion and 2010 Olympian, also skated, as did his coach, Yuka Sato. Sato, a world champion, skated solo and in a pairs routine with Rockne Brubaker, a national champion who is hoping to get back to competition after losing partner Mary Beth Marley.
Another performance of note was that of Nicole Bobek, who is making her comeback after pleading guilty back in 2010 to a charge of conspiring to distribute crystal meth.
Judd also was a key to the show's success. In addition to her remarkably strong voice --- and her incredible range, performing songs by Led Zeppelin to the classic, "When I Fall in Love," -- she also interacted with the skaters well. The performers would blow her kisses. She hugged some of them. At the end of the show, Hamilton got down on one knee and gave her a bouquet, prompting her to joke, "You know I never got to be prom queen."
After all the stress leading up to the show, it all turned out well. At the end of the night, Hamilton was relieved and grateful.
"I've got some pretty cool friends," Hamilton said.
With the gargantuan task of getting show No. 13 now behind him, Hamilton showed no signs of slowing down. In his closing comment, he yelled this promise to his Cleveland fans: "We will see you next year."
ICE CHIPS -- Lysacek said he cannot wait to get back on the ice training Tuesday. He also said he will be breaking in new skates then. He suffered a groin injury in late July and subsequently withdrew from Skate America. Lysacek reiterated his goal of competing in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. ... Yamaguchi's husband, Bret Hedican, a Stanley Cup winner and game analyst with Comcast, hasn't been able to talk much hockey this year with the NHL's lockout. But Yamaguchi has him busy working as her licensing agent. She has created a line of clothing called Tsuya (after her middle name, which means "shiny" in Japanese) ... Button said he was thrilled to see the other 12 U.S. Olympic gold medalists together. "That means I can needle all 12 of them at once," he said. ... Judd joked about the show's host, Hamilton: "He's got such a great attitude, it's almost irritating."