"He was the most perfect looking kid I've ever seen," Carroll remembers, somewhat wistfully. "He looked like a doll. I literally had to teach him his left foot from his right foot, and when I'd get mad at him I'd pick him up and dump him in a trash can."
Carroll had plenty of opportunities to vent his wrath. Once there was too much water on the patch of ice on which Bowman was practicing his school figures, and Carroll gave his pupil a mop and a bucket and told him to get to work. A little girl had a dry patch of ice beside them, and Carroll, knowing the mischievous nature of young Christopher, looked at him and said, "Don't you dare." No sooner had Carroll gone inside to fetch a cup of coffee than he heard the girl scream. "Christopher had waited until she was leaning over, and then—swish—right up the backside with the wet mop. He was always seeking ways to get attention."
Bowman's parents—his father, Nelson, works for the transportation department of the city of Los Angeles—tried to get him interested in other activities: swimming, horseback riding. But he always came back to skating. At one point he begged his parents to buy him a piano. When they obliged, he sat down on the bench and expected to be able to play. When he discovered that he actually had to practice to make the thing produce anything even resembling music, he gave it up altogether.
Everything else in his life seemed to come so easily. It was pure fate that made him a child actor, a career he eventually put on hold to pursue skating. When he was eight months old, a television program called The Good Guys needed a couple of infants for the opening and closing credits. Friends of the Bowmans knew the producer, and—presto—for a year and a half, baby Christopher's doll-like face was regularly featured in prime time. Six years later a casting agent came across Bowman's name in his files and called Joyce to see if her son might be interested in doing commercials. Why not? It would help pay for skating lessons. So Bowman began by making a half dozen or so commercials a year and eventually landed a small part in an episode of Little House on the Prairie.
"Acting is the ultimate sport," he says. "You talk about competition—you haven't seen it until you've seen 500 kids and their mothers all crammed in the casting agent's office."
Small wonder his on-ice personality became known as Bowman the Showman. Lights, camera, action? Bring 'em on. While other skaters quaked and trembled at the prospect of performing in front of a crowd, this kid lit up like a Bowman candle. He won the World Junior championship when he was 15, and by 1986, when he was 18, he was the second-best amateur skater in the U.S., behind Boitano. At the 1987 world championships in Cincinnati, while Boitano and Brian Orser were battling for the world title, it was Bowman who brought the spectators out of their seats with a flawless and captivating long program.
By that time Bowman's reputation as a party boy and ladies' man was well established, if not legend. Skating groupies, a hitherto little known subspecies, followed him wherever he went. The figure skating establishment is notoriously conservative, but Carroll believes Bowman's behavior was never held against him and may actually have worked in his favor. "The men in the upper echelon of figure skating enjoy seeing someone who's a man's man, as it were, with an eye for the women. And the women in the sport enjoy flirting with Christopher and fantasizing about him." And you thought judging was easy?
Bowman, who was engaged for a time last year (it broke up partly because of his decision to appear on The Dating Game), claims to be settling down. His current love interest is another world-class figure skater whom he prefers not to name. Bowman's girl-in-every-port stage was, he says, something of a rebellion against the perception that all male figure skaters were gay. "I had a lot of anger when I was younger," he says. "I got harassed all the time by the hockey players. I was performing in a predominantly girls' sport, so what did that make me? Finally, I realized it was the hockey players who were living in a mudhole. While they were skating around after sweaty men from 10 till midnight, which is when they had the ice, I was out on a date."
But Bowman was angry about other things, too. He felt the long hours of figure skating practice kept him isolated from his peers. He wasn't allowed to talk on the ice, which ran counter to his outgoing nature. At varying intervals, Carroll would weigh his skaters every day, a practice that caused Bowman such stress that, to this day, he can barely talk about how much he weighs. (He is 5'10", 160 pounds.) "Parents and coaches never stop to think what kind of an impact this sort of competitive high-stress environment has on a child," he says. "I've known a couple of girls who have had breast reductions on the advice of their coaches. Why would they do that to their bodies? That's the sort of thing I rebelled against."
He never ate, slept and breathed figure skating, because there were many aspects of the sport that he didn't like. He recoiled from the idea of being known as Christopher Bowman, the figure skater. He loved the limelight, loved the attention, but he wanted an identity apart from the rink.