PARAMOUNT — Ronnie Robertson looks across the Iceland rink and laughs as he tells how his ice skating career got off to a whirlwind start there nearly 50 years ago.
Back then, a 6-year-old Robertson skated to the edge of the rink, doused himself in the melted ice and then searched for a group of girls to tease.
He skated up to them and started spinning, spraying water like a soggy dog after his first bath, all over the shrieking girls. It was about as much fun as a kid growing up in Long Beach could ask for.
"It was great," he said, laughing. "It was like turning a hose on them."
His audience was somewhat reluctant that day, but it marked the birth of a skating showman.
His career has spanned nearly 36 years and included an Olympic silver medal, 15 years of starring in ice shows and several appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Skating made him a millionaire.
"I would like to be remembered as the best skating entertainer," said Robertson, now an Irvine resident.
"Not just a skater, but an entertainer, too. It could be a show packed with 2,000 paper boys and I would still give it my all out there.
"I miss it (performing) terribly. My only regret is that I can't stay 25 years old forever. I've found nothing that can match it yet."
He skated during the Golden Era of ice shows, starting with John Harris' Ice Capades and later with Holiday on Ice.
Movie stars regularly cheered him during performances at the old Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Culver City. He was the marquee attraction at shows that sold out Madison Square Garden for three consecutive weeks.
"The studios made them \o7 shows\f7 ," Robertson said. "People came dressed in furs and tuxes. Now, they're in Levis and T-shirts."
Thousands paid to see Robertson skate. But most of all, they came to see him spin.
He could spin faster than a fan blade--420 revolutions per minute to be exact--and Harris nicknamed him "The Human Blur."
Robertson did more than entertain audiences with that talent. He kept scientists with the U.S. Space Program busy, too.
Scientists couldn't figure out how Robertson could spin so fast without becoming dizzy or fainting.
In the early days of the space program, scientists tried to understand how astronauts maintained balance when the lack of gravity in space gave no clue to their equilibrium.
When some of the original astronauts were spun in huge centrifuges, they passed out between 320 and 330 revolutions per minute. Most skaters spin 240 revolutions a minute, so why could this guy from Long Beach go so much faster?
Scientists approached Robertson with that question during an Ice Capades show in 1958. They used high-speed cameras to clock his spins, then invited him to the University of Michigan Medical Center to study how he withstood dizziness.
They found no explanation.
Robertson spent three days in Michigan for tests and another week in Oklahoma City for more.
Scientists poured ice water in his ears before he spun. Nothing.
They tried warm water. Still nothing.
He solved math problems while he spun. He spun in darkness and silence. They spun him in a chair, propping his eyes open so he couldn't blink. Even that had no effect on him.
The scientists gave up. They had no explanation.
Robertson has his theory: "It's counter balancing. You stay focused, your mind thinking as quick as it can during the spin. After a while, it becomes an automatic reflex.
"Everyone told me it was a natural ability, that I had one of the best centers of gravity they had seen. My weight was distributed just right, my legs were bowed just enough to spin."
He credits one of his coaches, Gus Lussi, for helping to develop his spinning technique. Edi Scholdan, who trained Robertson from ages 8 to 15, worked on the skater's jumping and other skills.
In 1979, Robertson retired from skating. Although he still teaches, he doesn't attempt the spins.
"My gut's too big," he said.
Robertson originally retired in 1971 after 15 years on the ice show circuit, but made a comeback in 1974, winning the World Professional championship at 37. His retirement came three years after becoming one of only three skaters to be inducted into the Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame, joining Sonja Henie and Roy Shipstad.
Robertson now teaches two or three times a week at Iceland, training youngsters and occasionally working with some of the top pros and amateurs. He spends a few days each year working with 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano.
Robertson branched into new territory Thursday night, making his debut as a judge at the Challenge of Champions at the Forum that included skaters such as Kristi Yamaguchi and Boitano.
"Brian is wonderful to work with because he is such a perfectionist," Robertson said. "It's easy to work with someone who cares about his work."
Robertson had a similar attitude during his amateur and professional careers. He ended a stormy amateur career at the 1956 Olympics, finishing second to bitter rival Hayes Alan Jenkins.