It is not a particularly good movie, if only because Tai's best friend is practicing to go to Olympics by completing a single Salchow, and John Nicks' idea of constructive instruction is to scream "Bloody up!" every time she falls down.
Also, the practice outfits Tai and Randy wear are yes, even more hideous than what we see on ice-dancers today. Men really shouldn't wear little pink bows. Really. (Nor should they wear little red bows like Sergei Grinkov did in exhibition the first year he and Katya were World Champions, but, in that particular case, no one was looking at him, anyway).
But the real point of this post is to observe that The Tai Babilonia Story was being rerun on an obscure cable channel -- could have been Lifetime, though no one was being stalked, could have been WE, though no one was being set up on a blind date, could have been Oxygen, though no one was talking to Oprah -- but it was an obscure channel in the middle of a weekday.
And yet, immediately afterwards I noted a serious spike in web traffic coming to FigureSkatingMystery.com searching for "Tai Babilonia." I have to assume there was a connection.
I was in Metulla during Christmas of 1996, shooting an interview with Misha for the 1997 Worlds. He took us on a tour of his neighborhood's bomb shelter, talked about seeing a Katyusha rocket landing in his back-yard, and explained that he was a fatalist.
"When your time is up your time is up. A bomb could land on us right now, and there's nothing anyone can do about it..."
Diagnosed with testicular cancer a few days before Carlo Fassi's death in March (at the 1997 World Championships, as tragedy piled on top of tragedy, the dazed skating community walked around shell-shocked, wondering what shoe would drop next) at the time of Fassi's Tribute Show Hamilton was off the ice, recovering from surgery and chemotherapy.
Skating's then record high profile insured the story getting mountains of media coverage, including a cover story in People, and, the ultimate sign that your sport has entered superstar stratospheres, mention in the National Enquirer. (Previously, the mainstream press' interest in ailing skaters was limited to the rather morbidly gleeful death-from-AIDS count kept by several major-newspaper reporters).
Scott's illness, or rather, his recovery, was also a good enough reason to stage yet another skating telecast, as on October 29, 1997, CBS taped Scott Hamilton: Back on the Ice.
With celebrity guests Jack Nicholson, Cindy Crawford, Leeza Gibbons, and Angie Dickinson to add Hollywood glamour to the occasion, and proceeds going to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation which treated Hamilton's cancer, the night climaxed with Scott's tear-jerking performance to Gary Morris' live rendition of "With One More Look at You."
Yet, unbeknownst to Scott's fans who only saw the show live or on television, Scott's true comeback occurred during the rehearsal for that decisive number.
It happened with no fanfare, no warning even. At the main rehearsal, just as the television people were settling down and getting ready to begin, Gary Morris ascended the artists' platform and proceeded to perform his song so that Audio could get a level check. No cameras were rolling. Then, with no announcement, Scott stepped out onto the ice, and began skating his number. It wasn't officially a run-through. Everyone was supposed to be doing something else. No one was supposed to be watching the ice. Yet, everybody in the arena knew something magical was taking place. Everybody in the arena stopped what they were doing. And they watched. Mesmerized. Comprehending that this, truly, was the moment of Scott's return.
Arguably, the most interesting portion of the televised show came when some of the world's best skaters each recreated a portion of Scott's most-popular routines, pointing out, once and for all, what made the 1984 Olympic gold medalist so irreplaceable.
After the entire cast rocked out to "Hair," Paul Wylie kicked things off with his homage to Scott's "Conductor" routine. However, Wylie's precise, fastidious style seemed rather out of place in a program whose primary theme is a skater growing more and more tired, until he finally loses so much control, he can barely stand after a spin.
Next, Rosalynn Sumners came out in Scott's blue-with-red-V Olympic costume, skating to "You Always Hurt the One You Love," followed by Kristi Yamaguchi hop-scotching through "When I'm 64." Despite her technical skills (she did an Axel with a hat pinned to her vest), Kristi came off more as an authentic little girl, rather than the adult briefly hiding in childhood of Scott's interpretation.
Brian Orser delivered "Cuban Pete" with the backflip in the right place, but an utter lack of apropos facial expression, while Brian Boitano couldn't stop grinning all through his "In the Mood" while dressed in a chicken-suit. Yet, neither managed to recapture Scott's sheer joy in his own silliness necessary for both programs.
Similarly, Ekaterina Gordeeva, performing Scott's spoof of the lounge lizard who sings, "I Love Me," was handicapped by the presumed lack of Las Vegas entertainers in Russia.
In the end, Kurt Browning's "Walk This Way," came the closest to not just imitating Scott's steps, but capturing his exuberant spirit, as well.
There were plenty of smiles in the three days of preparation prior to A Skaters Tribute to Carlo Fassi, as thirty years of Fassi-apprentices gathered to reminisce and, basically, throw a party in his memory.
1992 Olympic Silver medalist Paul Wylie, who Fassi coached to the 1981 World Junior Championship recalled how Carlo, in an attempt to calm down his protegees prior to competition, would thrust his face within inches of their's and shout, "Relax!"
The 5' 4'' Wylie also related that it was Fassi who, on a whim in the late 1970s, decided Paul should skate pairs, introduced him to Dana Graham, and ordered them to start practicing lifts right away. He balanced Dana on the barrier, and told Paul to hold her up. The teen-age Paul tried his best, but, as soon as Carlo let go, so did Paul. In spite of that less than auspicious beginning, Graham & Wylie went on to win the 1980 U.S. Junior Pair Championship, before calling it quits.
At the tribute, Paul skated "Bring Him Home," from the musical Les Miserables, while Peggy Fleming presented "Ave Maria," Nicole Bobek chimed in with "Sacrifice" and the rather interesting choice for a memorial, "You Don't Own Me," while Robin Cousins rewrote the lyrics to Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me."
Yet, for many, the most moving moment of the night came at the finale, when all of Carlo's Olympic champions (save for John Curry who died in 1994), his World Champions (except Jill Trenary who was recovering from surgery but had flown in to be in the audience), his national medalists, including Wylie, Caryn Kadavy, Angelo D'Agostino, Tom Dickson who was representing himself and wife Catarina Lindgren, home awaiting the birth of their twins, John Baldwin Jr. representing himself and his father, both National Novice Champions under Carlo, and various others, took the ice at the same time, and, from 1968 Olympic Champ Peggy Fleming to 1998 Olympic hopeful Nicole Bobek, turned, as one, to salute Carlo's portrait beaming down at them from above the ice.
A month later, the skating show, along with a Biography-style profile of the man aired on ESPN as the two hour Skater's Tribute to Carlo Fassi. Yet, one story missing from both the live and TV show was of a 17 year old Junior skater who, in 1976, was ready to give up the sport because his family simply could not afford it any longer. When Carlo Fassi, who was interested in coaching the boy himself heard about his dilemma, he lined up a sponsor to take care of his training and expenses. The news so cheered the teen up that he went on to win the 1976 U.S. Junior Championship.
Scott Hamilton was on his way to the top.
Three years later, Scott left the Fassis and headed East. To Carlo, he would always be "the one that got away."
Yet, in spite of their parting, prior to the tribute, there was speculation that Scott might come to at least watch. But, sadly, in the summer of 1997, Scott Hamilton had problems of his own.