As you would expect, Brian Boitano watches skating a little differently than you do.
The 1988 Olympic gold medalist spots everything: jumps that are landed in the wrong direction, skaters trying (and failing) to make up lost points, spins worth more points because the skater is using the inside or the outside of his blade.
You’ll be talking about a skater’s score, and he’ll glance at his phone: “I just got a text from Kristi Yamaguchi.”
“Where are you sitting?” the message says.
Then you’re back to watching the action on the ice. It’s the second group of men’s skaters in Friday night’s short program, and Boitano is curious to see how a few of the lesser-known skaters will handle the pressure of nationals. It’s easy to pinpoint the skaters who are new to the highest level of competition.
“Growing up, you get to be a bigwig in novice and juniors, you think you’re flying high,” he says. “Then you get to seniors, and you’re at the bottom, you’re nobody, you have to start over.”
If that wasn’t pressure enough, there’s the awful moment that every skater faces: a big tumble, especially in the program.
“Ugh,” Boitano sighs.
“There’s a moment where you’re going: ‘Oh my God, I fell. It’s like a dream. Did I really just go down?’” he says. “And the worst part is that you have to get up and smile.”
He still skates, often on TV shows. The only competition he attends every year, though, is nationals. It’s a chance to catch up with friends, provide a little encouragement to some of the up-and-comers, and this year, narrate his Olympic gold medal-winning performance for the entire arena.
Omaha hosting the championships means he’ll get a chance to see family — his sister and her family live in northwest Iowa. Boitano is a little disappointed, though, at the city’s relatively low turnout at the event so far.
“Years ago, we’d fill this place,” he said.
“I think we really need a new star,” he says. “It needs to be a group of people who do well in the Olympics and who stay in the sport.”
Plus, he says, people sometimes forget how hard it is to skate well — or skate at all.
“We make it look too easy,” he says.
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Video: Brian Boitano in Omaha: