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  • Tuesday, February 23, 1999

    Skater has 4 1/2 months left in prison term

    By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press
     Gary Beacom is preparing to get out of jail and skate.
     The onetime Canadian Olympian, whose rebelliousness landed him in trouble on and off the ice, is prisoner No. 09349023 at the Allenwood correctional facility at White Deer, Pa., where he was sent 13 1/2 months ago for income tax evasion.
     In correspondence from jail with The Canadian Press, he does not hesitate when asked what he'll do if he's deported following his July 14 release.
     "My first instinct will be to resume skating since that's what I do best, particularly because my career was at a high point before this rude interruption," he writes. "Since I have never been off the ice for more than a month at a time in the past 30 years, I intend to recover my skills gradually in order to avoid injury."
     Beacom, who turned 39 Tuesday, was runner-up to Brian Orser for the 1983 and 1984 Canadian men's figure skating championships. He often trained without a coach and sometimes pieced together programs from music he heard on the radio.
     He represented Canada at two world championships and at the 1984 Winter Olympics, where he created a scene by kicking the rink boards in disgust for what he considered to be unfairly low marks on a compulsory figure.
     Beacom's popularity soared on the show circuit because of his unconventional but entertaining routines. He began his pro career dressed as a devil, has performed with skates laced to his hands, once did a 22-minute routine to synthesized music, and his bizarre bird call number had onlookers wondering if he indeed was loony.
     He moved to the United States in the early 1990s to take a job as artistic director at a rink in Sun Valley, Idaho, and continued skating in shows throughout North America.
     "Gary Beacom is skating's best-loved oddball, a mad scientist on blades," Beverley Smith wrote in her 1997 book Talking Figure Skating. "He is a rubber-ankled, deep-thinking, mesmerizing ice artist, whose novel ideas stand the skating world on its head.
     "If everything in the skating world operated in a clockwise direction, Beacom would be part of the counterclockwise sweep. His peers bow to his quirky magnificence."
     Judge Edward Lodge found Beacom different, too, but he didn't bow.
     After Beacom was convicted at an October 1997 trial in Boise, Idaho, of failure to pay more than $187,000 in U.S. federal taxes, Lodge pronounced in sentencing that Beacom had been his own worst enemy for representing himself in the proceedings.
     Just before being sent to Allenwood, Beacom placed fourth in the 1997 Canadian professional figure skating championships in Kitchener, Ont.
     Beacom insisted during his trial -- and still does -- that prosecutors failed to prove he should be obligated to pay U.S. income taxes. In addition to the prison time, Beacom was ordered to pay a $50,000 US fine along with the $187,000 in taxes he owes on more than $650,000 income for 1992, 1993 and 1994, and another $134,000 on income the Internal Revenue Service estimated he earned in 1995 and 1996.
     Beacom, a vegetarian who lists rollerblading and cross-country skiing among his non-skating activities, has remained active at Allenwood, where prisoners wear khaki outfits, live in dormitories rather than cells, and answer roll calls each evening at 9 p.m. The facility, which includes recreational facilities, is fenced and there is a 24-hour patrol.
     "I have honed my physical and mental acumen by playing table tennis, hacky sack, eight-ball, and chess, as well as with regular calisthenics and weight training," Beacom writes from Allenwood. "In addition, I have enjoyed ample rest.
     "I have no idea whether I'm in better shape or worse shape, as skating has always been my barometer in this regard."
     Beacom has been teaching high school-level classes to fellow prisoners.
     "This has been as much a lesson for myself as for my students," he writes. "I doubt if a more difficult teaching environment can be imagined."
     The lifestyle has its positive aspects, Beacom says, reiterating his belief that he is innocent.
     "Ironically, one has more freedom in a sense because of the overall less onerous responsibilities," he writes. "Any anguish comes from the lack of mixed company.
     "Though I would prefer to have continued my life unimpeded by this injustice, I have no regrets about this experience with the law and its misapplication. The expense has been somewhat overwhelming, but the education has been irreplaceable and my self-esteem has been immeasurably enhanced."
     Beacom emerged from his home town of Calgary to earn a place on national skating podiums. He was 13th at the 1983 world championships in Helsinki, and 10th at the 1984 worlds in Ottawa, after finishing 11th at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
     Olympic teammate Paul Martini was in the arena when Beacom went ballistic.
     "I for one didn't realize there was this explosive side to him," Martini recalls. "He always comes across as a low-key guy, soft-spoken, then all of a sudden he just drills the boards.
     "This was no love tap. . . . I was shocked."
     Beacom somehow managed to retain world-class skating standards while also earning a degree in physics from the University of Toronto, from which he graduated in the same year he was on Canada's Olympic team.
     "I recall my amateur skating career as being so all-consuming, though it has by now faded into relative insignificance," Beacom recalls. "Likewise, this incarceration ordeal will undoubtedly recede quickly into the past.
     "One event of my earlier days has retained its vividness, namely my protest of the judging at the 1984 Olympics. My opinion to this day is that everybody in my event ought to have been disqualified -- everybody, that is, except myself.
     "My distaste for politics and my disposition to grouse has admittedly not abated. I like to think of myself as a man of principle."
     Martini often skated in the same show tours as Beacom.
     "Gary really made his mark as a pro," Martini says. "Gary wasn't going to get headlines based on his record as a competitive skater but he doggedly pursued what he felt skating couild be or what it meant to him and suddenly he became one of those individuals that anybody putting a show or tour together wanted to have him as a marquee name.
     "They knew they were going to get a great performance. He was a must-have. I remember a Katarina Witt-Brian Boitano tour in the early '90s. Gary was the change-of-pace guy, and he did it brilliantly."


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