"He loves being the star, being the center of attention," says Carroll, "and he's great under pressure. You just wish he trained a little harder. For years people have told me how wonderful he is, because he has that quality that brings people out of their seats. But there's something missing."
"If I came into this arena right now, with none of my students around," says Carroll, "I'd turn on the lights, put on some music and skate around looking like a fool, because, at age 50, I still love to skate. Christopher wouldn't."
He doesn't live it. He doesn't have figure skating in his soul. Bowman has heard the criticism before. During the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, in which he finished seventh, ABC announcer Dick Button tweaked him over the air, saying, "He's a little too busy chasing Frisbees—and bikinis—on the beaches of Malibu."
"You're right, Dick, I'm a human being," responds Bowman, who believes that "eating and breathing figure skating morning, noon and night is fine for a few minutes. I mean, who cares if you arrive at the rink early and turn on the lights? Who really cares? Not the judges. Not the audience. It doesn't matter how many days I've worked as long as I feel in my heart I have what it takes to do my best right here and right now. The bottom line is the performance."
Figure skaters approach a competition in one of three ways. They dread it, out of fear of failure. Or they prepare, prepare, prepare for it, in the conviction that when their time comes to take center stage, muscle memory will prove more potent than nervousness, hot flashes and terror. Or they embrace it the same way a thespian—or in Bowman's case, a vaudevillian—embraces a performance, for figure skating is equal parts athletics and theater, a blend that is unique in all of sport.
Bowman is not the skating technician Boitano was; his form and body line are not quite as close to perfect. He doesn't have the nimble, energetic style that distinguished Hamilton. But no American skater has, or had, Bowman's on-ice flair and, well, chutzpah. He is a Broadway director's idea of a skater, a cross between Casanova and Bob Hope. In some respects Bowman resembles a masculine version of Katarina Witt: flirtatious, sensual, melodramatic—sometimes to the point of hokiness. He moves easily to music and maintains a body line that seems to flow across the ice without angles. However, Bowman lacks any trace of Witt's sophistication, often surrendering to the temptation to be a flagrant ham. He will unabashedly wave at the judges, wink at television cameras and occasionally even stick his tongue out at rinkside friends. During exhibitions he will literally climb into the stands bumping and grinding while teenage girls collapse at his skates. "He loves to shake his booty," says Carroll, "and he has that sultry sort of attitude and look that work well with Latin music. Frankly, I'd like to have his style more refined. Sometimes he makes a gesture and I think, Oh, vomit."
Don't look for Bowman to change anytime soon. "People say, 'Aren't you being just a little flip and flamboyant?' " he says. "But that's me out there. That's my personality. And deep down inside, I think that 92 percent of the judges like what I do."
He is a born performer, who has been gravitating toward center stage since he was five years old and first took to the ice. Near the Bowmans' home in Van Nuys, Calif., was a skating rink in a shopping mall. One day Joyce Bowman looked up to see her son, Christopher, sliding around the rink in his street shoes. He had seen a bunch of kids out there having fun and, being a self-assured only child and somewhat hyperactive besides, he figured he would join them. Eventually Joyce entered him in a tiny tots program to learn to skate. He was, to say the least, a natural. "Right from the start I was doing twirls and racing around," he says. "I was Christopher Bowman, ankle biter, in your face."
Within months he skated well enough to advance into the 17-and-older class. One minute he would be leading a parade of teenagers around the shopping mall ice, the next he would be sitting on the ice eating snow. The fit wasn't quite right, and Joyce was advised to find private instruction for her son. She had heard of a rink near their home, the Van Nuys Iceland, and one afternoon she dropped in to see if anyone there gave lessons. A young girl was on the ice, and Joyce had never seen such beautiful skating. She raved about the girl to a woman seated nearby. "Why, thank you. That's my daughter," Virginia Fratianne replied. Her coach, of course, was Carroll, and he agreed to take the precocious five-year-old Christopher on as a student.