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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 04:40 GMT

A greater prize in skating

By BBC Sport Online's James Cowling

Of all the figure skating disciplines, it is the ladies competition that is the most prestigious and for the winner the most lucrative.

It was Sonja Henie of Norway who put the ladies event in the forefront of popularity back in the 1920's and 1930's.

After winning three Olympics gold medals, a feat that has so far never been duplicated by a ladies' singles skater, Henie went to Hollywood and became a movie star.

That set the trend for women who won the Olympic title.

Carol Heiss Jenkins of the United States who won the Olympic gold medal 42 years ago in Squaw Valley was also lucky enough to go on to a brief Hollywood career.

Back in the 1960's, though, the only real options were to go into ice shows.

Heiss Jenkins, the last woman to win Olympic gold on American soil, said the choices nowadays are limitless.

She said winning the gold medal is worth millions: "If you spur the mind of the audience and win the Olympic gold medal, it's worth millions to that figure skater. Michelle has been making $4m a year."

When Tara Lipinski of the United States won gold in Nagano four years ago, it was reported that she was instantly worth up to $12m.

The 1968 gold medallist Peggy Fleming of the US is also still active in the sport.

She is a commentator for ABC television.

From Ukraine to America

While top dollars go to the American women, others have also profited from their win.

Two times Olympic gold medallist, Katarina Witt, who competing for East Germany, is another success story.

Witt's continued fame came as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The German beauty has gone on to make films, pose for Playboy magazine, is a major draw in figure skating shows in eastern Germany, and is commentating for German television at these Games.

The 1994 champion Oksana Baiul, the orphan from the Ukraine, moved to the United States shortly after her win and has been skating professionally ever since.

While this year's winner has yet to be decided, whoever it may be, her future looks very bright indeed.

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