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Last week's 1987 U.S. figure skating Championships in Tacoma, Wash., had just about everything but a mush pot and, well, a dictionary. Quads? Yes, not the muscles but the 'ruples. BTBs? Definitely. Gastrocs? By the dozens, one of them torn. 'Tano Triples? You bet. Waxels? Hoo boy! Unitards? Sure. But mush pots? Not a one as far as the eye could see, which, between the fog and the smog of this city's paper mills, was about 30 yards if you bothered to step outside the Tacoma Dome.
It was a memorable competition all right. On Thursday, 1985 champions Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard of Los Angeles set the tone by becoming the first team in 52 years to regain the U.S. Pairs Championship. They knocked off defending champs Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner. Friday brought another upset, as defending dance champions Renee Roca and Donald Adair lost their crown to the breezy, crowd-pleasing duo of Suzanne Semanick and Scott Gregory.
But these were mere appetizers. The real interest focused, as usual, on the singles, in which the defending champions, Brian Boitano and Debi Thomas, were also the reigning world champs. Boitano, 23, was going after his third straight men's title, and he wound up winning in a walk. A stylish, technically powerful skater whose star is still ascending, he is head and shoulders above his U.S. competition. After the compulsory figures and the short program, Boitano had such a commanding lead over Christopher Bowman, the eventual second-place finisher, that the only matter of conjecture was whether Boitano would become the first-ever skater to pull off a quadruple jump during his freestyle program. Czechoslovakia's Josef Sabovcik had come the closest, when he performed a flawed quad in the 1985 European Championships, landing on two feet instead of one.
Boitano, who has been landing quads in practice since 1983—he estimates that he hits them 85% of the time in workouts—had fallen the only other time he had attempted one in competition. However, that was last October. He had little to lose by trying the jump again in Tacoma, and much to gain if he could securely tuck the quad into his Olympic repertoire. "He may not need it in Calgary," said his coach, Linda Leaver. "Or he may really need it. But whichever is the case, our strategy is, let's get it ready now."
Besides, Boitano likes a challenge. He really does. So when he unveiled his freestyle program on Saturday night, he included, just before the much bally-hooed quad, a little number he had invented called the 'Tano Triple. In it he throws his left arm dramatically over his head and holds his right hand away from his body as he rotates through the air, a matador spinning weightlessly. After that, Boitano was supposed to segue to a triple Axel, but he popped it and turned it into a single. Then came a camel spin and, a minute into his program, the quad.
Boitano bounded—he has the vertical leap of a kangaroo—and became a blur in the air. One, two, three, four revolutions, but as he landed, his upper body was pitched too far forward and he touched the ice with his hand in an effort to maintain his balance. Imperfect success. Once the quad was behind him, Boitano relaxed and was stunning the rest of the way—classy as opposed to bouncy and gratuitous—earning a standing ovation from the crowd of 10,256 and 5.9s from eight of the nine judges.
"I don't think I could be much happier with the quad," he said afterward, promising to keep it in his program when he defends his world championship next month in Cincinnati.
But the real drama was provided by the ladies' competition. Before anyone had even arrived in Tacoma, Thomas was rumored to be off form. The gossip had her coach, Alex McGowan, fuming after the competition. "The first rumor was that she wasn't going to come," McGowan said. "The next rumor was that she would do the figures and then drop out, so she could say she had competed and automatically qualify for the worlds. And the third rumor was that she hadn't trained. I had judges coming up to me the first two days saying, 'Is this true? Is that true?'
"It's politics. These were rumors deliberately planted by one of the other camps. I can't say which one because I can't prove it. But if you can weaken a champion's position in some of the judges' minds, then your rumors have accomplished something, and there were some judges upset at Debi before she had even arrived."
Rumormongering is the least appealing aspect of figure skating, and the less it is dwelled upon, the better. This much, however, was true. Thomas, a sophomore at Stanford who is studying premed, had not begun training until mid-December. She was cutting it close and knew it. Moreover, she had strained her calf muscles on Jan. 2 while lifting weights on the advice of the owner of a 24-hour weight-training center. The injury kept her off the ice for 10 days.