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'The Caesars Tribute: A Salute to the Golden Age of American Skating' comes to Atlantic City

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Once the children have opened all of their presents and you’ve made it to your Paul Wylie, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski photo by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics Photographycelebration destination, this Christmas Day, be sure to tune in to a spectacular ice-skating extravaganza premiering nationally on NBC.

Presented by Colgate Total, The Caesars Tribute: A Salute to the Golden Age of American Skating  was taped earlier this month at historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, where more than three-thousand fans attended to watch their favorite Olympic and World Champions sizzle on ice.

Never before has a roster included almost all of the biggest names in ice-skating, even expanding across generations including Evan Lysacek, Nancy Kerrigan, Sasha Cohen, Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, Sarah Hughes, Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie, Todd Eldredge, Rudy Galindo, Dick Button, Tai Babilonia, Tenley Albright, Richard Dwyer, Debi Thomas, Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval just to name a few!

Among all of the skaters, there were 25 Hall of Famers, together holding over 200 Olympic, World and National medals. Not everyone skated on the ice, but those who did delighted fans with vivacious, emotional and passionate routines while the other professional skaters contributed by presenting awards and partook in television interviews for the holiday special.

Ice skating icon and Skating with the Stars judge Dick Button, the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Gold Medal winner, was honored with a lifetime achievement award. Button is credited with being the first skater to successfully land the double axel jump in competition in 1948, as well as the first triple jump of any kind – a triple loop– in 1952. Before presenting the award, Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist, referred to Button as, “The greatest skater that ever lived!” After sharing that genuine remark, the crowd jumped to their feet to give Button a standing ovation. The commemorative poster read in part:

In some athletes lies a personality that allows them to transcend their sport and on rare occasions, transcend sports altogether. In some cases those personalities cast a shadow that leaves little room for those who follow to shine. In other cases, those iconic personalities blaze a path that shines a light on future stars. Dick Button has transcended skating—crossed over into entertainment and business and hung a light that has provided opportunity, possibility and stardom for generations of skaters.

Excited to receive the award, Button told me after the presentation, “I’m very pleased about it and it’s a lovely achievement award and I’m highly honored by it.”

In between the entertaining performances, video presentations of taped interviews Todd Eldredge photo by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics Photographyfeaturing the figure skaters took audience members down memory lane by profiling the pioneers of American Figure Skating.

Among those who skated in Atlantic City was 1996 World Champion, Todd Eldredge, who executed an intensely riveting performance.

 “It was amazing!” Eldredge explained during a reception after the show, “Just the night—it was one of those magical type evenings where you’ve got an incredible history of figure skating in this country.”

Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic Silver Medalist and three-time World Champion also skated in the show and afterwards recapped the weekend.

“It was wonderful to be back with the hero’s of American skating and people that have been my mentor and my idols over the years,” she said, “so it’s just an honor to be a part of it.”

Cohen also had the opportunity to see a little bit of the resort while in town.

“I like Atlantic City!" Cohen happily said. "A lot of great restaurants and shops and the people have all been really nice.”

1996 U.S. National Champion Rudy Galindo performed an energetic routine starting out dressed as a sailor and ending in a patriotic costume to a song-compilation of “In the Navy,” “Macho Man” and “YMCA.” After his performance, he explained the value of having the ice skating tribute.

“I think it’s very important. You saw the audience, it was one of the most packed houses that we’ve had in skating and I think we need to do whatever it takes to have more of this—it just brings everybody together and you get to see over the years what America has produced in skating. It’s just phenomenal,” Galindo noted.

In addition to success as a single skater, Galindo and Yamaguchi skated as a pair from 1986 to 1990 capturing the U.S. Junior Pairs Championship, the World Junior Pairs Championship and the U.S. Senior Pairs Championships.Nancy Kerrigan photo by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics Photography

Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist, did not skate but joined the festivities as a presenter. She proclaimed the same sentiment the skaters felt sharing with me that the tribute was a fantastic reunion.

“We’re all a part of a fraternity in skating that we’re all proud of and it’s just fun and an honor to be here,” Yamaguchi noted.

Babilonia and her ice skating partner Randy Gardner were the 1979 World Champions and the 1976-1980 U.S. National Champions. They too were presented with an award that read in part:

Together they brought the discipline of pairs skating, which so often took a back seat to the individual performers, to the consciousness of a nation. Together they made the degree of difficulty that encompasses “pairs,” look easy…seamless…effortless. Together they became one word: “Tai-and-Randy.” We honor them for being groundbreaking, for their style and for enduring in a partnership that has lasted a lifetime.

In addition to seeing and catching up with her fellow skaters, the tribute became something more for Babilonia, it was a place to have the performance of a lifetime—one she had fantasized about since she first began her career.

“It’s an honor to perform with Richard Dwyer," she explained. "He’s an icon. All of us girls when we were young skaters always dreamed of being a ‘Dwyer Girl’ and it happened, we made it happen here and it’s just one of those moments where you don’t want it to end.”

Dwyer, the 1950 National Bronze Medalist, also known as “Mr. Debonair,” is a skating legend. At the age of 74 years old, he performed during the tribute along with Albright, the 1956 Olympic Gold Medalist and first American female skater to win an Olympic gold medal; JoJo Starbuck; Linda Fratianne and Babilonia. They skated together to the theme song from Casablanca, As Time Goes by inspiring a classy, old Hollywood feel. The ladies were dressed in black and grey gowns with feather boas and Vera Wang & Evan Lysacek photo by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics PhotographyDwyer in a black tuxedo—his signature style. The number was an instant crowd favorite receiving a standing ovation.

Other noteworthy performances came from Kerrigan, a two-time Olympic figure skating medalist who wore a striking black and green costume during one of her routines set to music from the hit Broadway show, ‘Wicked.’ Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist donned a chic costume designed by Vera Wang, who was also part of the show. Prior to her career, Wang originally wanted to be a figure skating star.

A daring and thrilling exhibition came from Urbanski and Marvel who kept fans on the edge of their seats as Marvel flipped, twirled and threw Urbanski on the ice with professional ease and grace. Tara Lipinski also stepped out on the ice in front of a crowd for a televised show for the first time in seven years.

Not only did the skaters enjoy a connection with the audience as they performed, but also a sincere connection with one another as they all watched from a special section cheering each other on, taking pictures, sharing heart-felt hugs and thoroughly enjoying the evening. The finale brought everyone involved together out on the ice to salute these accomplished American ice skaters.

For fans it was a chance to watch their favorite figure skaters live on the ice, a dream come true for many and for the figure skaters themselves, it was an opportunity to do what they love and to honor their fellow heroes from the golden age of American ice skating.

Complete list of ice-skaters at the show:

Evan Lysacek, Nancy Kerrigan, Sasha Cohen Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, Sarah Hughes, Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie, Todd Eldredge, Rudy Galindo, Michael Weiss, Jenni Meno, Todd Sand, JoJo Starbuck, Kenneth Shelley, Naomi Lang, Peter Tcherneshev, Dick Button, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Tenley Albright, Richard Dwyer, Caryn Kadavy, Kimmie Meissner, Rosalynn Sumners, Debi Thomas, Linda Fratianne, Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval, Tara Lipinski

Watch a special clip from the show:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPBX1S2zSjk&feature=player_embedded

Contact Veronica Dudo at vdudo@philly2philly.com

Photos by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics Photography. Check out Tom's gallery on the above right side of the article!