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Complicating Thomas's situation was the performance of Canada's Elizabeth Manley, who was way back in 10th place after the short program. She put on a vibrant, bouncy freestyle and received 5.7s and 5.8s, which eventually pulled Manley up to third. That, in effect, removed Thomas's margin of error, particularly after the long-program performance Witt turned in. Skating to music from West Side Story, Katarina was so pretty, she was Maria, but mostly she was Katarina the fighter, making a last elegant rush to hold on to her title. In the past, too much has been made of Witt's looks. She is a steely competitor. (The truth is, she is no longer even the most enchanting champion in skating, that mantle having been passed to the doll-like Soviet pairs skater, 14-year-old Ekatarina Gordeeva, who, at 4'10" and 77 pounds, skims over the ice like a swallow.)
In the long program Witt earned her first two 6.0s in international competition, marks that reached Thomas's ears through the dressing-room wall. Much to her chagrin. "Even if you're trying not to listen, it's pretty hard to ignore the first six-zero you've heard all week. I've never had to go out after 6.0s before," Debi said later. "I've never skated against anyone in my career that had 6.0s. With so much at stake, I didn't know how I'd handle it."
With grace, as usual. Starting slowly—her first two triples were a bit jolting—Thomas relaxed as she landed her third and her fourth while her teammates screamed encouragement. "I wrung my hands so hard I got calluses," said Boitano.
McGowan had convinced Thomas to remove a fifth triple from her program—it was too risky. But, with the guts of a burglar, she suddenly and spontaneously improvised a triple-double combination in place of one of the four triples. "I didn't think about it beforehand," she said later. "All of a sudden I was just doing it. I guess I thought I might need it."
She was having fun, right up until the double axel at the end—the same one that troubled her at the U.S. nationals last month—and when she nailed that cleanly it became clear to everyone that they were applauding the gold medal winner. Only Chin remained to skate. Slipping once, Chin skated the fourth-best long program, winning the bronze medal for the second year in a row.
Thomas had owned the ladies' championship for 20 minutes when Witt was seen angling to get it back. Rumored to be on the verge of retiring, Witt squelched such speculation by declaring: "It's more difficult to defend the title than to win it the first time. It will be hard for Debi next year." Would Katarina be one of those in the hunt? "Yes," she said without hesitation. Then with an iron look she added, "I have decided I will continue skating until I get the title back."
Look out now, Debi. You girls are ruthless.