Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler started things off for the Canadians by outclassing the field in the pairs competition and winning their first world championship, after second-place finishes in 1990 and '91 and a disappointing third in '92. Their victory broke an eight-year reign by pairs skaters from the former Soviet Union and vindicated Brasseur and Eisler's decision to retain their amateur status following their disappointing third-place finish in the Albertville Olympics.
It is an awkward time in figure skating. New rules passed by the International Skating Union (ISU) have opened the Olympics to skating professionals, provided they put their income from skating into a trust fund and reapply for amateur status. So in Prague the question of which skaters were reapplying for amateur status and which were not was as heated a topic of discussion as Katarina Witt's peekaboo eight-page photo act in the March 4 issue of Bunte, a German magazine. Two-time Olympic champion Witt was paid some $900 for posing in a veritable buffet of seminaughty attire. This, apparently, did not jeapordize her amateur standing; she has already been declared eligible to compete at Lillehammer. "It's very clear she has to learn more triple jumps," says Witt's longtime coach, Jutta Muller. "At this point Katarina is not among the favorites."
Yamaguchi, the '92 Olympic women's titlist, is mulling over her options. She has even considered returning as a pairs skater, figuring she would have nothing to lose. The great British dance couple, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, are also pondering an Olympic return. Brian Boitano of the U.S., the '88 Olympic men's champion, is definitely coming back—his coach, Linda Leaver, was in Prague for two days to scout the competition—as is Baiul's benefactor, Petrenko, over the screaming objections of his manager, Michael Rosenberg of Los Angeles.
"He's giving up $800,000 to go back to Odessa and train," moaned Rosenberg, seeing his percentage of the take leaving on a jet plane. "Viktor says, 'But I am athlete.' Great. As one coach told me, the problem with this sport is, it's slippery out there. He could finish sixth."
Both Petrenko and Boitano will have all they can handle in trying to beat Browning if he skates as he did in Prague. In his freestyle program, which Browning will use in the Olympics, he assumes the persona of a "modern-day Rick" from Casablanca—suave, cool, competent and alluring. The program is so packed with interesting moments and stylish footwork that Browning's cleanly landing only five of eight planned triple jumps was virtually dismissed by the judges and totally ignored by the audience. No male skater in Prague came close to him. And while he still has difficulty landing his triple Lutz, Browning will be very difficult to beat in Lillehammer.
So will Baiul. All too obviously, the U.S.'s battle cry must be, Back to the future! Its 1994 figure skating hopes rest on past champions Boitano and Yamaguchi, one of whom has committed to the challenge; one of whom, still tantalizingly in her prime, remains on the fence.