Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill have helped put ice skating on a par with women's gymnastics as one of the best sports for spectator enjoyment. Even though Olympic competition skating is rigorously structured, it is nonetheless thrilling to see the gliding and soaring performers blessed with grace and beauty.

Ice Castles taps into this popular phenomenon. It is a totally affecting story of a young skater's rise. Alexis Winston is a farm girl whose natural talents in skating are affirmed by Beulah Smith, an ice rink operator who once was a local winner herself. She primes Alexis for a regional event where coach Deborah Mackland sees her and decides she is Olympic material. Despite the protests of her father, the young woman is whisked away to a training camp with other Olympic hopefuls.

Ice Castles is a melodrama that really works, thanks to the sure-handed directing abilities of Donald Wrye. He never lets it slip into sloppy sentimentality. And there are several very strong performances. Newcomer Lynn-Holly Johnson (a 1974 Novice Free Skating Silver Medallist and featured artist in her first year with the Ice Capades) does a good job conveying the mixed emotions of an adolescent who is torn between her rural roots and the urban glitter of success and celebrityhood. When she can't handle the latter, she sets herself up for an accident which leaves her nearly blind.

Tom Skerritt does an exceptional bit of acting as Alexis's father, a widower who puts aside his possessiveness and allows his daughter to bloom in her own way. Colleen Dewhurst is sturdy and likeable as Beulah Smith, an individualist who pulls Alexis out of her post-accident depression. And Robby Benson is touching as the boyfriend who finds meaning in his life by devoting himself to Alexis's return to skating. Together, these three provide a life-support system which enables a talented young woman to glide once again on the wings of her own determination.

Ice Castles, like The Turning Point, is solid humanistic drama. It lifts our spirits while it gives us a glimpse into the human side of an exciting sports.