Stars on Ice skips 2020 performance

Skaters reflect on what event means to them, Lake Placid

Olympic gold medal figure skater and Stars on Ice co-founder Scott Hamilton skates in Lake Placid during the 2002 Stars on Ice event. (News file photo — Pat Hendrick)

LAKE PLACID — In Lake Placid during the holidays, there are treasured traditions that can always be relied upon: Main Street’s holiday decorations, the Holiday Village Stroll weekend, skaters gliding at the Olympic Speedskating Oval and Stars on Ice at the Olympic Center.

Stars on Ice has been a holiday tradition since its inaugural Lake Placid show in 1992. But this year it didn’t return due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In September, the announcement was released on its website: “In response to recommendations by the World Health Organization, local bans on mass gatherings, and the closing of the U.S./Canada border to all but essential travel due to global health concerns regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus), the 2020 Stars on Ice North American tour has been canceled. This decision was made after careful consideration, as the health and safety of our skaters, staff, partners and fans remain our top priority.”

It further noted that plans are underway for the 2021 tour throughout North America.

“The schedule for 2021 has yet to be determined. We would hope to be back at the Olympic Center sometime in the fourth quarter of the year,” said Byron Allen, senior vice president of IMG, the company that manages the tour. “We certainly miss being in Lake Placid this week.”

In this 1992 cast of Stars on Ice, from left, are Peter Carruthers, Kitty Carruthers, Gary Beacom, Rosalyn Sumners, Doug Ladret, Brian Orser, Christine Hough, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. (Photo provided — Stars on Ice)

The last time the tour was postponed was in 2009 when the decision was made to reschedule the entire tour until spring 2010, following the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada. This gave the tour the opportunity to employ new medalists following their Olympic triumphs.

The other notable postponement was when Stars on Ice tour member Sergei Grinkov, a pairs skating legend with his wife Ekaterina Gordeeva, died during practice shortly before the show on Nov. 20, 1995.

In those days, Stars on Ice debuted in Lake Placid the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In more recent years, the tour made a top in Lake Placid between Christmas and New Year’s Day, giving locals and families visiting Lake Placid during the holidays a chance to enjoy some world-class skating.

Yet this is the first time the tour has been prevented from going on due to a global health crisis.

The Stars on Ice tour began in 1986. When his Ice Capades contract was not renewed, 1984 Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton and his agent Robert D. Kain of IMG conceived of the idea of a figure skating show unlike any other at that time. Then called “Scott Hamilton’s American Tour,” it starred Hamilton, included 1976 Olympic silver medalist Toller Cranston and 1984 Olympic silver medalist Roslyn Sumners, and began with five cities, which did not initially include Lake Placid.

Later that same year, Kain suggested the tour name Stars on Ice. After several years and more cities were added, the inaugural Lake Placid Stars on Ice show took place in 1992. It starred Hamilton and Sumners along with 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi, 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie, 1984 Olympic silver medalists Kitty and Peter Carruthers, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, two-time Olympic champions and four-time World champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, 1988 Canadian National champions and Olympians Christine Hough and Doug Ladret, and two-time Canadian National silver medalist Gary Beacom.

Wylie, now the director of sport for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, explained that during that time, Stars on Ice was essentially “in residence” at the Olympic Center.

“We spent over a month in Lake Placid putting the show together and it was as fall turned into winter,” Wylie said. “I loved the process that started with the choreographers playing us the music for group numbers, many of which became iconic, to putting the movement on ice, costuming, and then lighting. Opening weekend we did four dress rehearsals before the show on Saturday night, the first of which was on Thanksgiving Day. After that dress rehearsal, we went as a cast for Thanksgiving dinner. The cast of Stars on Ice during that time became quite bonded through the rehearsal time in Lake Placid, which was a wonderful blessing as we went out on tour.”

Fans would pack Lake Placid, where for many years Scott Hamilton would serve as emcee, announcing to the audience, “I love this town!” This phrase became so well known locally, it was immortalized in a bumper sticker by a local artist and represented how the other Stars on Ice cast felt about the two-time Olympic village.

“The kickoff in Lake Placid was always special as the audiences were so warm and welcoming and they stayed until we landed all of our jumps for the re-takes,” Wylie said.

For many years, the show in Lake Placid was televised and shown on network television as a special in advance of the rest of the tour dates. So at the end of the show, skaters who missed a jump would return to the ice, their music would play, and it would be re-captured for the broadcast. This moment is just one of those that made Lake Placid a special place for both fans and skaters, who were often encouraged (sometimes loudly) by fans when they struggled with a jump, finally landing it to thunderous applause.

Called “The Home of Stars on Ice,” Lake Placid has been the unifying factor in the tour, a place where many pieces of skating history occurred. Wylie reminisced about those experiences.

“Together we became friends across skating generations, many of us previous (and even current) rivals with castmates,” Wylie said. “Professional skating was exploding, so we were in and out of town going to pro competitions.

“Sergei Grinkov died during our first lighting walk-through of the show. Scott Hamilton had to leave the show because he had cancer, and then he came back better than ever. The new skaters just kept coming in, and they were amazing and always energized the older cast members.

“I was able to skate with Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean and Katia Gordeeva in a number, but also with Kurt (Browning) and Scott (Hamilton) in the ‘skate sounds’ number which every young skater should see on YouTube. We had epic costumes designed by Jef Billings, the lighting by Ken Billington (Tony Award Winner for Chicago) was incredible, and all was put together by the great Sandra Bezic. I am proud of those years and they represent a truly happy experience from start to finish.”

Hamilton has said more than once that Lake Placid was like a second home, and he returned once again this past February to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Winter Olympics Games and host a fundraising skating party on the Olympic Oval. Sk8 to Elimin8 Cancer benefited the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation for cancer research and raised more than $70,000.

Also happening that day was the Dream On! Show to commemorate the achievements of the 1980 U.S. Olympic figure skating team. Wylie was instrumental in organizing the show and emceed the evening, which was part skating show, part retrospective. Hamilton was there as well, sitting at ice level in the rink where he entertained so many.

This past year, a special holiday performance of Stars on Ice, featuring four-time World champion Kurt Browning and three-time Olympic medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, thrilled audiences at the Olympic Center on Dec. 30, 2019. The full Stars on Ice tour was scheduled to resume in the spring of 2020 throughout Canada and the U.S. West Coast, but then the pandemic hit. Many states in the U.S. and provinces in Canada went into a lockdown, with non-essential businesses not open. This included ice rinks. Even now, while some rinks (including the Lake Placid Olympic Center) have remained open, with restrictions, others have had to alternate between closed and open in response to changing COVID-19 cases, depending on their location.

ORDA has postponed and canceled many skating events, including the World Synchronized Figure Skating Championships in March, the Lake Placid Figure Skating Championships, and Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships this past summer, along with a host of Saturday Night Ice Shows. The Empire State Winter Games, in which figure skating was still the largest sport represented, was also postponed for 2021. But Wylie has high hopes for future skating events.

“There will be wonderful skating shows in the future in Lake Placid,” he said. “We are all doing our best to get through this time so that these important events can happen again as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have to revisit our happy memories and begin dreaming for the future.”

Stars on Ice helped remind fans of such happy memories by offering a YouTube video chat on Dec. 11, “Stars on Ice Home for the Holidays,” hosted by Browning and White, who chatted with other Stars on Ice cast members about 2020 and beyond. Browning opened the show by saying it’s a “reunion of sorts for the Stars on Ice family” and reminded viewers, “We’re still here! (And) looking forward to rinks opening and getting back on the ice.”

While it is disappointing to disrupt traditions and postpone or cancel events, it is understandable in these circumstances.

Hamilton said it best.

“COVID-19 has taken lives, made millions of people sick, destroyed businesses, and threatens to make the United States insolvent due to the debt that has accrued with all the necessary stimulus bills.

“There have been many times when tradition has to take a back seat. Stars On Ice not having a show in Lake Placid for the first time since 1992 is logical. And I see no reason to do a show when so many aspects of our country are in complete chaos.

“We paused (postponed) when we lost Sergei in respect. He was a member of our Stars On Ice family, and to honor him in that way was the only choice.

“We pause (postpone) to honor our Stars On Ice Lake Placid family as well during this unimaginable nightmare we are all living through.

“When Stars On Ice performs in Lake Placid again, it will be safe, and I know there will be a lot of enthusiasm for celebrating this wonderful tradition and a return to better days.”

For further Stars on Ice updates, visit online at https://www.starsonice.com/.