Decades of skaters assemble for gala

December, 8, 2010

Jojo Starbuck compiled an accomplished pairs skating career, winning national titles and world championship medals and competing in two Winter Olympics. But she admits she had one daydream that never materialized.

"Richard Dwyer was my childhood idol," Starbuck said from her home in New Jersey. "I always wanted to be a Dwyer girl. They floated around the ice looking like angels in their gowns. They were the epitome of glamour."

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JoJo Starbuck
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesJojo Starbuck, shown in 2009, won national titles and world championship medals and competed in two Winter Olympics as a pairs skater.

Wouldn't you know it, decades after Starbuck swooned over Dwyer -- a former competitive skater known as "Mr. Debonair" during a long career in the Ice Follies and Ice Capades -- she'll get to realize her fantasy. Starbuck, along with former world champion pairs skater Tai Babilonia and Olympic silver medalist Linda Fratianne, will perform alongside Dwyer at a skating gala that will assemble several generations of U.S. figure skating stars Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

The who's-who appearing at The Caesars Tribute: A Salute to the Golden Age of American Figure Skating includes younger celebrities like Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, 2006 silver medalist Sasha Cohen, 2006 world champion Kimmie Meissner and 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes. But the cast of performers and honorees also reflects every decade going back to the '50s -- including 1956 Olympic champion Tenley Albright, who later became a surgeon. Peggy Fleming, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist, will be on hand to co-host, and ageless commentator Dick Button will receive an award, as will '92 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi.

"It's a good time of the year to reflect on how much these people have contributed to the sport and how important it is to stay connected," Fleming said.

The season after a Winter Olympics is necessarily a bit of a lull, but this event and the memorial tributes planned in January and February around the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed the 1961 world championship team make for two emotional occasions featuring the icons of the sport in this country.

Button, the 81-year-old two-time Olympic champion, still laces up the skates once in a while on his pond in suburban New York but will be in street shoes at the gala. He called the gathering "very rare" and said he appreciates the fact that the past half-century of accomplishment will be celebrated.

Starbuck, who continues to teach skating to children and adults while she raises 15-year-old twin boys, lamented the fact that there aren't as many opportunities these days for skaters to go on to be pure entertainers between competitive seasons or after retirement. She hopes the pendulum swings back when the economy improves.

Fleming is optimistic. "Seeing skating with your own eyes is so different from seeing it on TV or on a computer," she said. "There's an energy and a realness to it, the feeling that you can almost touch these people. I don't think it'll ever go away."

Bonnie D. Ford

ESPN Senior Writer



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