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Olympic Champion Calgary 1988

With great expectations for myself and full of anticipation for the Olympic Games in Calgary, I fly to Canada where everyone else is already on site. I watched the big opening ceremony at home in my living room on television.
It's crazy to be sitting in a chair, being there in your thoughts, and being so far away. But since the women's competition is to lead up to the grand finale of the games once again, I feel I can better concentrate on my training here at home, rather than on site under the observation of everyone there. Naturally, I don't have a clue that I will be returning home two weeks later with my second Olympic gold medal.

The Olympic Games in Calgary 

As soon as I land in Calgary, I am attacked by reporters who won't leave me alone. I haven't even been there for 24 hours, and am hit by a wave of requests for interviews, television appearances and photo shoots. In order to satisfy the media's curiosity a bit and give me a little peace so I can do my training, the team management agreed to hold a press conference to answer all of their questions. In the history of figure skating, this has only happened that one time. The stands in the Archie Boyce Pavillon were filled to the top, with over 600 journalists present. The 608 seats were not enough, and they were crowding the aisles and stairways. I was stunned at the amount of interest, and was a bit coquettish about it. What woman wouldn't want to have the world at her feet? I try to answer their questions patiently, and try to communicate in English. At this moment I understood what it meant to be in the centre of worldwide publicity. While still at home, I find out that I am to be the first of 31 competitors to skate in the compulsories on February 24th. That meant getting up around 5a.m. and keeping a high level of concentration until the afternoon, as this event can be a marathon of up to 9 hours. At 7a.m. I am the first to go out on the ice, and that slick flat surface wasn't the only thing that was frozen. I was probably still dead tired, and maybe this sluggishness finally gave me the necessary inner peace I needed for my compulsories, because after the first figure, I am in, amazingly, second place. Between compulsory segments, one could surely slip in an hour nap or so. In fact, since I had another four hours before my next figure, I went back to the Olympic Village, did some sightseeing, and sat at the computer, where one could see the latest news about the other athletes on "Info88". Even if I had been Forrest Gump, I would have understood that this was an early form of internet, and I could get e-mails. I choose number 1, as a good omen, and hope that I will be standing in exactly that position after the freestyle. In this discipline, I can luckily see the improvements I have made through all the hours of painstaking work. The expectation is that Kira Iwanowa will be in the number one position, followed by Debi in second, and I will be in third place.

After taking fifth the previous year in Cincinnati, this was almost a comfortable starting point for the short freestyle. Wasn't it just the same in Sarajevo 4 years ago?
It must be a good sign.
Before we competitors could measure our athletic skills against each other in the short program, the discussion over my costume for the short program became a side-show.

The coach for Elizabeth Manley, the Canadian favourite, who was in fourth place after the compulsories, could smell the gold medal for his pupil, and tried to a certain degree, to discredit my performance. He told the press, "We are accustomed to skaters being properly dressed and not wearing a thong..."
This gave the journalists a juicy topic aside from the usual Olympic reporting. Then Alec McGowan, Debi's Trainer, caught wind of a rumour, and believed I would get an extra tenth, since 7 of the 9 judges were male.

During the 6 minute warm-up time before the short program, nothing is going right at all. I keep messing up on my combination and the double axle, two elements that I can do in my sleep, and which are most crucial. At moments like this, Mrs. Müller was worth her weight in gold. She knows how to calm me down, and tells me again and again how I've mastered this thousands of times. I should put the past out of my mind, even if it was just a minute ago, and just think about right now and trust in my capability.
With newfound courage and gusto, I begin my short freestyle. Thirty seconds after completing my successful double axel and the combination triple toe-loop, double Rittberger, I skate jubilantly for the rest of the program. The loud roar after the combination, which is audible on the video footage, I had not noticed at all out of sheer relief. Not only am I skating to the music of a showgirl, and looking like a showgirl, but I also feel like a showgirl, standing before 19,000 wildly applauding spectators in the sold-out Saddledome. I love the energy of the program, and after the step sequence, I was so proud and overjoyed , that my nose was running. I believe that throughout my whole career, my legs are never straight, my feet don't glide perfectly over the ice, and I am absolutely not perfect. But I put my heart into it, and sometimes I lose my composure.
There was also a loud applause for Debi Thomas, who gave a competent and energetic performance. Incidentally, in a thoroughly sexy black body suit, which wonderfully accentuated her perfectly trained body--a vision that would keep any man from thinking about his train set. Oops, where is her skirt? Apparently that doesn't bother anyone these days. She received a higher A score for technical merit, but with eight scores of 5.9 for artistic interpretation, I have the advantage. I don't think I got those scores because of the feathers on my costume or because my butt was hardly covered.

The "Carmen" Duel

One journalist wrote for the DPA, "The worst thing for Carmen, is when she runs into Carmen. Because nobody loves Carmen as much as Carmen loves herself. And there's nothing Carmen hates more than seeing Carmen in someone else."
So, in sunny Calgary, Carmen meets Carmen for the first time. It is really an unbelievable happenstance, that in this season of all things, Debi and I, completely independent from each other, chose to use the music from Bizet and to embody Carmen. It was a priceless incident for the media, who, in Calgary, were tauting it as "The Battle of Two Carmens".

The freestyle is scheduled for Saturday evening during prime time. The television channel ABC measured a viewer rating of 40.2 %, the second highest ever, at the time, for a sporting event. Peggy Fleming, the American Champion in 1968, summed up the dispute very simply: "It depends on who best uses her strong points. Debi with her athletic skills, or Katarina with her attitude".
As different as our attitudes are on the ice, so were our interpretations of Carmen. My choreographer Rudi Suchy, Mrs. Müller and I are geared toward convention. I attempt to be seductive, coquettish, and to translate her story of love, pain and sorrow with choreography. And of course I must do this while "dying".
Debi, in her funny, sarcastic manner, said in an interview, "I hope it will be of great significance that the Witt dies at the end of her freestyle, and Debi survives."Debi wants joi de vivre to be the main focus of her Carmen interpretation, and has consulted the fantastic, legendary Russian ballet dancer Michael Baryschnikow, for the artistic direction. Her freestyle is athletically dynamic, and the dancing is gracefully choreographed.

Before the last group goes out on the ice, Midori Ito of Japan is getting standing ovations in the stadium. Without batting an eye, she skates her freestyle with seven triples, five of them different, and two in combinations. With mind-boggling speed, she spun through the program, and her jumps have a height that every figure skater dreams of. I have been keeping an eye on her for the last few years, and have come to know her as a loveable girl and a great athlete. Like it was for me at the start, she struggles with her compulsories, and just as the older girls used to keep me at bay with their high scores, it's the same for her now. If she had been skating in our group, she would have made hell a little hotter for us! I definitely believe that the future could belong to her. During this time, I warm up backstage, and because I'm so nervous, I keep going to the mirror and applying more and more make-up. This somehow has a calming effect for me. However, I completely lost track of how many times I re-applied eye-shadow, eye-liner, and lipstick again, to my ever brighter, redder lips. Years later, I still cringe when I see my highly expressive make-up.
Well, luckily it worked with the drama of the evening.
I skate my freestyle very early in our group. Before Elizabeth and Debi. Actually, it means more to me to skate after everyone else, when the pressure is the highest. This time I have to show them how it's done. Mrs. Müller, at the side of the rink, put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye, and gave me a mental shove just before I was called out. The bells at the beginning of my music transform me into Carmen immediately. Energetically, I jump my first combination triple toe-loop / double toe-loop, on to the triple Salchow, then the double axel and another triple toe-loop. And almost without breathing. I make up for that.
I spend the hard-won 30 seconds flirting with the judges, and not only with the 7 men among them, and "posing" choreographically for the audience. That's unimaginable today! Too bad, really!
Peggy Fleming and Dick Button, commentating for ABC, utilize this little "break". Peggy wants to give me a woman-to-woman compliment, and said, "This is the moment in which Katarina attempts to draw in the audience's attention. And her theatrical..." But she doesn't get any further, as Dick finished her sentence in a somewhat brash manner, "there's nothing theatrical about that, it's just posing."
If only they knew, that during the "flirting break", my heart almost fell into my costume, because suddenly, I had no more strength in my legs. During the habanera, "Love is a wild bird, which no one can tame, and it is useless to call him, if he doesn't want to come" I feel weak and tired and would prefer to stop. Hello! In front of a million spectators, I can hardly fall asleep on the ice! I realize in the run-up to the triple Rittberger, that I don't have the necessary chutzpah for that, and do a double instead. The following triple Salchow combination went so flawlessly well, I would have loved to have audibly screamed for joy. But for now I am Carmen, and can't very well let out a squeal of delight, while the jealous José is on the verge of giving me a razor sharp death blow. The last double axel is also a success, and I feel that I have given my all for Carmen. Four triple jumps securely demonstrated, every facet played out emotionally and choreographically, and yet I know--"lifeless" at the end, and draped across the ice-"Oh man, nothing has been won yet, and everything is still wide open for Debi". With a heavy heart, relieved for the most part, but still a bit anxious, I get up, and four seconds later, I'm Katarina again.

The hugs and kisses from Mrs. Müller don't seem to me to be very happy ones. I greet her like I do my family, as I have since I first participated in the World Championships in Dortmund in 1980, holding both earlobes and rubbing noses. That way, they know I am thinking of them here, as well as everywhere else. Both of us, Mrs. Müller and I, know that under such enormous pressure, it was a good performance. But the door is still wide open for Debi, and now she will have to get through it.
Elizabeth Manley came after me, and danced the freestyle of her life. To a potpourri of modern music, she skated a fast-paced freestyle, and her four different triples exploded like fireworks. The home audience burst into a roar of standing ovations, and gave her a winner's welcome.

I watch Debi unprovokingly from the athlete's official corner at rink-side. Whenever she is called out, she slaps both hands with her trainer. This time she misses, and I know right away, it's not going to go well for her. She isn't aggressive enough. The first combination goes badly, and she loses her fighting spirit. Afterwards, she has more bad landings. I don't have to wait for the score to know that I have won the "Battle of the Carmens". Back in the dressing room, as I am putting my skates on for the award ceremony, I hear a thundering applause from the stands and my knees start to tremble. Does this mean Elizabeth is in the lead? While two are fighting is she the third with the last laugh? In the media and in our minds, the focus had up to now been on Debi and me, so we never turned to see what was coming up behind us. However, as luck would have it, the audience was extremely excited because on the scoreboard, they could see that Elizabeth had won the silver medal for Canada. For them it was like she had won the gold!
Oh! And I am overjoyed that I get to take my second Olympic gold medal home with me.

But unfortunately, at the award ceremony, there was a commotion. I reached my hand out to congratulate Debi as she stepped onto the podium, and she ignored me. The public, incensed, taunted her for her bad attitude. I came to her defence on the victory podium, and know that in her thoughts, she is miles away. She is so disappointed in herself, that she is absolutely mentally absent, and doubtless, as if in a trance, she is only aware of her need to disappear from the public eye. As an athlete, I can fully understand her immeasurable disappointment, and admire her honesty and openness, and make no bones about it. She has always been a great and fair athlete. It was a funny thing years later, that she was one of the judges at my last professional competition as a figure skater, and gave me the highest score.

"Gold and beer, Kati with a buzz."

"A beer has Kati staggering."

At the press conference, I can hardly end some of my sentences for laughing. "I never drink beer", I say apologetically. But to speed up the drug test, I help myself to this "medical aid" and lose my composure. I latch on to the Olympics mascot, laughing and giggling, and try to answer the journalists' questions as best I can.
The athletic and emotional climax is, of course, the awards ceremony. But for us figure skaters, the real fun begins with the final skating exhibition.

This year, for my encore, I have come up with some choreography to Michael Jackson's song "Bad" and go out onto the ice wearing a leather jacket with rhinestones on it. The audience and the international media completely flipped out!
Afterwards I read in the press, that even Michael Jackson flipped out.
I'd call that a pay-off.  

Copyright Katarina Witt