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Tai and Randy: Their financial lives are injury free

Tai and RandyTai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were the hopes of the U.S. figure skating team at the 1980 Lake Placid Games, but Gardner's groin injury had worsened in the month leading up to the Olympics. And when the two stepped onto the ice for their Olympic warm-up, he could barely put weight on his bad leg. The pair aborted their Olympic dream and were dubbed the heartbreak kids of Lake Placid.

They turned pro, but the years following Lake Placid were unkind to Babilonia. She became depressed, drank heavily and was dependent on amphetamines. She attempted suicide. Her skating partner stuck by her, and after she got help, the two together have persevered. Babilonia, 43, and Gardner, 45, remain close to their skating roots. They've done numerous shows for Champions on Ice and appear on other tours. Gardner has also moved into producing and choreographing for television. He's worked with current skating stars Viktor Petrenko and Nancy Kerrigan. Babilonia designs jewelry and skating wear for older figure skaters. They collaborate off the ice too, recently publishing a coffee table book, "Forever Two As One."

Bankrate: You've been in the public spotlight for more than 25 years. Even though you didn't take home that coveted Olympic gold medal, what do you attribute your staying power to?

Tai Babilonia: I think what happened in 1980 has a lot to do with it. Because we didn't win the gold, people hooked into that. It showed that we were human, and people remember that. In a weird way, it put us on the map. We got through it, Randy got healed and we kept going.

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Randy Gardner: We toured a lot and did a lot of TV work and other things. From the Olympic incident, all the media coverage brought the public closer, it helped people identify with us.

Bankrate: Do you get tired of talking about that missed opportunity?

Gardner: At first it was tough because that was all we talked about, but it's part of our history.

Babilonia: It's our life, and we know we are so lucky to still be doing something we love. We've been skating together so long, we're going on 35 years .

Bankrate: Did staying together so long bring about opportunities?

Gardner: Definitely. We did a lot of stuff, almost every tour that's out there in the skating world. There were a lot of TV specials offered because it was so unique for partners to stay together so long. And there hasn't been a U.S. team that has won the world championship since we did, so that's part of it too.

Bankrate: How tough were the years after 1980?

Babilonia: They were tougher for me than for Randy. Everything was so confusing. I was working nonstop. I just needed to stop. I was acting out. A lot of people weren't happy with my decision to talk about the drugs, the alcohol and the suicide attempt. But for me, it was something I had to do, get it out on the table. It was therapeutic for me. It just showed that I'm not perfect. It shaped me to be the person I am, the mother I am. I have an 8-year-old son.

Bankrate: What's different about the skating world now than when you started out?

Babilonia: There's a lot more money these days. There's no such thing as an amateur skater anymore, they call it "eligible." We were happy to get a piece of jewelry or whatever money, and it just went back into your skating fund. But now, a lot of the innocence has been taken away. Skaters arrive at the rink with managers, agents, whatever. We had our parents.

Gardner: It's very good that skating has gotten so popular and that companies want skaters to endorse their product. That's all good. But I've seen the dollar signs distract skaters, and others just go on. It's different now because some of the skaters look at some competitions and decide on whether to do them based on the money they'll be paid. I think skaters should just do whatever competition regardless what the appearance fee might be.

Bankrate: Randy, your company, Randy G. Inc., also choreographs nonskating projects.

Gardner: I've been able to diversify into working with gymnasts, dancers and aerialists, circus type acts for Sea World. I've realized that all performers are the same.

Bankrate: And Tai, you're in the designing business now.

Babilonia: Oh, my butterfly jewelry, that's like my outlet, I love it. It's available on my Web site. I have a clothing line in the works.

Bankrate: How active are you in managing your money?

Gardner: At first I wasn't that involved with it, we had accountants and my parents oversaw the process. But as I got older, I got much more active. Now, I meet twice a week with my accountant. I'm diversified, as they say, U.S. stocks, foreign stocks, bonds and cash. Sanford Bernstein handles my retirement account that I've had for 23 years

Babilonia: I understand it more now, I'm home more. When I was on the road, the checks would just get sent to my accountant. Now, I meet with him every week. I own two homes. When we turned pro, we made a decent living.

Bankrate: So how are your muscles treating you now on the ice.

Gardner: It's hard, we're in our forties now, it just takes us longer. If someone wants us to do something, we need at least six to eight weeks to get ready. We can't just show up next week and perform. Now, skating for us, it's the joy of doing it, we don't really do it for the money, but when you get out there and perform, it's in your blood, and it feels so good.

Babilonia: Everything starts to hurt, and that's OK. We have more fun with it now because we do less and we appreciate it more.

-- Posted: April 7, 2003
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