The Calgary Winter Olympics were one of my all-time favorites. Absolutely outstanding figure skating competitions. I've enjoyed viewing my videotapes from time to time, and here are my impressions:
The Men's Competiton:
1988 was the "Battle of the Brians". What can I say - it was one of the finest nights of Olympic men's figure skating ever (IMHO, of course). Canadian Brian Orser, the defending World Champion was a slight favorite over the 1986 World Champion, Brian Boitano of the USA. Both Brians skated their hearts out at Calgary, and many of us wish that there could have been two gold medals awarded at that competition.
Orser won the short program and Boitano was second, but with the combined school figures scores, Boitano was in first place going into the long program, with Orser a very close second. Essentially, whoever won the long program would win the gold medal.
Boitano skated to the theme from the television program "Napoleon", and his program featured eight triple jumps, two of which were triple axels. His combinations were a triple axel/double toe and a triple flip/triple toe. All of his jumps were right on, as were his spins. Brian had grown significantly as a skater during the past year, and in working with choregrapher Sandra Bezic, he emerged as an artist. Up until that time, Boitano was known as a great technician but not much of an artist. In fact, Dick Button once described his programs as "artistic wastelands". In Calgary, Boitano put it all together, and he skated a masterful long program. His marks were good, nothing lower than 5.7, and many 5.9s, but the judges were leaving room for Orser, who skated after Boitano.
Orser skated to "The Bolt" and showed off his quick-footed artistry. Brian landed a triple axel/double toe and got off to a strong start. However, in the middle of his program, he fell out of a planned triple flip, and the audience gasped. Later, he doubled a planned triple axel, and he appeared to lose steam and energy towards the end of the program. His final jumps were quite small. Still, when he finished, he clasped his hands in victory, as though he felt that he had won the competition. The scores were so close! It was a 5/4 judges decision for Boitano.
The bronze medal was won by 18-year-old Victor Petrenko of the Soviet Union. Skating to "Don Quxiote", Victor landed triple after triple and showed strong presentation skills. He appeared to be the champion in the wings.
The men's podium - Boitano, Orser, and Petrenko - was a showcase of wonderful skating talent and sportsmanship. Bravo to all of them.
Calgary also was the Olympic debut of Kurt Browning, Paul Wylie, Christopher Bowman, and a bevy of other young, up and coming skaters. These guys skated in the next to the last flight of skaters, and watching them you knew that there would be some outstanding stars of the future.
The Women's Competition:
This was the "Battle of the Carmens" - reigning World Champion Katarina Witt of East Germany and former World Champion Debi Thomas of the US skated to selections from "Carmen". There was a great deal of media hype over their rivalry - the "East vs West" political thing - as well as their contrasting styles. Witt was a show skater of the first order. She played to the crowd, judges, and the media, while Thomas was a techical skater - all business. Witt was also stunningly beautiful, and the media clamored around her, anxious to take photos of her. The pressure on Witt and Thomas was sky-high, as both of them wanted desperately to win the gold medal. Witt, as a citizen of the GDR, knew that her country expected her to win, and Thomas, as an African-American, felt the pressure of competing to become the first black woman to win an Olympic title.
Witt won the short program with a flashy "Broadway" theme. Her costume had caused some controversy, as it did not contain a skirt. Katarina added feathers to provide some coverage. Thomas' costume also raised a few eyebrows, at it was a one-piece jumpsuit. She skated to rock music, something that wasn't the norm in those days. Thomas landed a double toe/triple toe combination, which was more difficult than Witt's triple toe/double toe, but Witt won the day. Debi's coach, Alex McGowan, held his fingers to his nose when her scores were read. Clearly, he wasn't pleased.
The long program featured two Carmens. Katarina's Carmen was flirty, saucy, and she "died" in the end, as Carmen died in the opera. However, there was a mid-section that involved a lot of posing and simple moves instead of jumps and other difficult elements, and her technical scores were relatively low - 5.6 to 5.8. While Witt earned many 5.9s for presentation, there was room for another skater to win the title.
Elizabeth Manley of Canada came into the long program in third place. She skated the LP of her life and landed five perfect triples, none in combination, but still gorgeous, nonetheless. The mid section of her program was skated to a lovely piece, "Candian Concerto", and it showcased her strong spins. The crowd went wild when she finished her program, and she rushed to her coach, placed a white cowboy hat on her head, and pumped her fists in victory. Liz won the long program, and with it, the silver medal.
Debi Thomas's program unraveled from her opening move - a planned triple toe/triple toe combination which she two-footed. It seemed that Debi lost heart and/or just gave up after that one mistake, and she fell out of two other planned triples. The audience gasped with every mistake. After she fell out of the second triple, Dick Button commented, "What a sad night this is for Debi." Her scores dropped her to the bronze medal. Peggy Fleming hugged her in the kiss 'n cry area, but what could anyone say to console Debi at that moment?
Midori Ito of Japan turned in, IMHO at least, the most electrifying long program, with seven strong triples, including a triple toe/triple toe. She pumped her fist at the end of her program and received a standing, noisy ovation. Ito was so overcome with joy that she burst into tears as she took her bows. She finished third in the long program - high technical marks but mediocre presentation marks and fifth overall. Ito's school figures kept her out of contention for the medals.
Jill Trenary of the US finished fourth. She skated to selections from "Nutcracker" and skated well, but a little tentatively. The other American skater, Caryn Kadavy, the reigning World bronze medalist, was forced to withdraw from the competition prior to the long program, due to a case of flu.
The Pairs Competition:
Katia Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov win their first Olympic gold medal in Calgary. Katia had become quite a media favorite, and the press followed them to their offsite training location. They won both the short and long programs. Their long program was skated to selections from Mozart and other composers and showcased their speed, power, and unison. Sandra Bezic was quoted as saying that their performance was "heaven. It was everything pairs skating should be. Sergei presented Katia so beautifully, like a cherished little sister."
Elena Valova/Oleg Vasiliev, the gold medalists from 1984, won the silver medal with two strong performances, and Americans Jill Watson/Peter Oppegard won the bronze medal, despite a rather jarring fall in their long program.
The Ice Dance Competition:
Soviets Natalia Bestemianova/Andrei Bukin won the gold medal convincingly, but their rather garrish costumes and frenetic choregraphy was criticized by the press. Natlia repeatedly "squatted" in front of her partner - a move that looked almost vulgar. It wasn't pretty, but it won the gold medal.
The silver medal was won by Marina Klimova/Sergei Ponomorenko of the Soviet Union, and the bronze medal was won by Canadians Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall.
The brother-sister team of Paul and Isabelle Dushanay of France were the real stars of this competition, IMHO. Their African routine/costumes was stunning and blew the roof off the Saddledome. They did not medal, but they sure won the crowd that night.
What a great, great competition!!!