Even though the effervescent performances of Elizabeth Manley and Midori Ito had stolen the show from Katarina Witt Saturday night, when the figure skating gold medalist from East Germany arrived—a bit tipsy—to meet the press, she quickly charmed her way back into the spotlight. A few minutes earlier the parched Witt had consumed a light beer.
"First of all," she said in charmingly imperfect English, "I think [I] will be funny because in the doping control I was drinking beer, and I never drink beer."
So she hadn't skated her best. So the dueling Carmens—Witt and America's Debi Thomas—had been duds. So both the artistic beauty of the East and the athletic fighter of the West had been outskated in the freestyle by Canada's Manley and Japan's Ito. Still, Witt had done what she had set out to do: become the first women's singles skater since Sonja Henie in 1936 to win back-to-back gold medals in the Olympics.
In front of the reporters, Witt's program went pretty smoothly—for a while. She explained that she would like to be remembered as a good skater, one who launched an era in which practitioners of her sport tell a story on ice. She hinted that she might appear in ice shows, that it would be hard to give up skating cold turkey. She had seen Thomas skate that night, and it just showed that, like everyone else, Thomas is human. Yes, after her performance she had met Italian skier Alberto Tomba, who had won his second gold medal earlier that day. He had given her a signed poster of himself, inscribed, "Alla Cara Katerina [sic], Viele Grüsse [To the dear Katarina, best regards], Ciao Alberto Tomba." He also had drawn a picture of a heart on it. "I don't think he knows much about figure skating," she said with a coy smile.
Then all the tension of the competition began bubbling out in Witt's delightful, schoolgirlish peals. Reporters from all nations began to chuckle. "I try in German," Witt said, attempting to regain her composure. "Don't laugh...." But she gave up the struggle and said, "Oh, forget it," as she dissolved in laughter. It was a nice way to end.
The U.S. contingent—Thomas, Jill Trenary and Caryn Kadavy—no doubt would like to forget the whole night. Thomas not only failed in her attempt to wrest the gold medal from Witt, but she also faltered so badly during her free skating, missing three triple jumps, that Manley edged her out for the silver. "I learned a lot about life here," said Thomas, who had led Witt after the compulsories and the short program, and was clearly unimpressed by her bronze medal. "Everything is not Cinderella." Trenary skated cautiously and finished fourth, while Kadavy had to withdraw because of the flu.
To win, Witt not only had to overcome Thomas and the pressure of being the Olympic defender and the Olympic favorite, but also had to contend with the relentless sniping of her opponents' coaches, some of whom attempted to focus the judges' attentions on Witt's technical shortcomings. "It's a backdoor way of educating the judges," said Peter Dunfield, Manley's coach, "so they aren't buffooned by the media into looking at the wrong things."
Dunfield launched the offensive by attacking Witt's ostensibly provocative outfits and accusing her of "exploiting herself." He described the costume Witt planned to wear for her short program as best suited for "a circus...all that's missing is the horse and reins. We're here to skate in a dress, not in a G-string." The outfit in question was cut unusually high on the hips. "I think every man prefers looking at a well-built woman [rather] than someone built in the shape of a ball," Witt said. "Why not stress what we have that is attractive?"
Carlo Fassi, who coaches Trenary and Kadavy, agreed. "She is so beautiful that anything she puts on is wonderful," he said. "Anything. Everybody tries to sell the judge during the free skating." However, citing the "bare midriffs, no sleeves, bikini tops and feathers in the hair" he had seen at Calgary, Lawrence Demmy, an official of the International Skaters Union (ISU), suggested, "It's gone a bit over the top."
Demmy should have been at a skating exhibition Witt gave in Paris last October. There, carrying this stressing-what's-attractive concept to the extreme, Witt popped out of the front of her costume during a camel spin, an accident that was captured on film by the West German magazine Sports International and made its February issue a hotter trading item in Calgary than even the Jamaican bobsleigh pin.