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Olympics Are Opened to Professional Skaters

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The International Skating Union adopted two proposals by the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. Tuesday that open the Winter Olympics and national and world championships to professionals.

The revised rules, passed at the ISU’s biennial Congress at Davos, Switzerland, are expected to benefit the United States’ 1988 Olympic gold medalist, Brian Boitano, the only professional who has expressed a desire to return to competition. Even before its adoption, one of the proposals became known as the Boitano Rule.

But the new rules also could affect more recent Olympians, such as 1992 gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, as they decide whether to continue competing through the 1994 Winter Games at Lillehammer, Norway.

The ISU liberalized its rules two years ago to allow skaters to earn money in exhibitions and shows, such as the Ice Capades, and retain their eligibility, but now they also can participate in professional competition sanctioned by their national governing bodies. For U.S. skaters, that is the USFSA.

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Boitano, 28, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but his coach, Linda Leaver, said that the skater has not had an opportunity to review the new rules.

“This is great, but we’ll have to see what it means,” she said. “There is an avenue for him to enter if he’s willing to meet certain requirements, but we’ll have to sit down with the USFSA to see what they are.

“Brian wanted an open Olympics, where you could go in, abide by the rules and win or lose. I’m not sure this is exactly that.”

The first rule change allows ineligible athletes to seek reinstatement; the second allows the sport’s governing body in each country to determine eligibility rules for its skaters.

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A USFSA spokeswoman, Kristin Matta, said that officials will meet to determine the association’s standards for both reinstatement and eligibility. She would not speculate on whether existing professional meets, such as those begun by Dick Button, would be sanctioned by the USFSA. Boitano has participated in eight of those since 1988, winning all of them.

Despite a movement led by the International Olympic Committee to admit professionals into competition previously reserved for amateurs, the International Skating Union, under president Olaf Poulsen of Norway, has been resistant to change.

But after the 1992 Winter Olympics at Albertville, France, in which the level of figure skating was universally criticized, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch renewed his campaign. When he recently appointed Poulsen as an at-large member of the IOC, observers of international sports correctly forecast that the ISU soon would fall in line.


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