I think the biggest factor was that World War II came along and knocked the whole European figure skating program for a loop. Especially in men's. In the 18 years between the two world wars Austrian men won a total of 31 World medals. When skating resumed after the war, from 1948 to 1959 U.S. men won 12 straight world championships, facing little competition from Europe.
Beatrix Schuba was a great champion, though. Probably the greatest figure skater of all time.
It is great when we see a woman in her 20's even the tiny ones, prevail. Katt was a great beauty. The last European to win two golds in ladies? Only Yuna has a chance I feel. She is built for FS version 2013.
But I love Kat. She was awesome and funny. Skating was everything to her.
I recall Tomba and the ladies going crazy for him. Witt seemed taken with him. Witt is someone who always loved center ice. She seemed to have the best of times and skated a long time. She was a diva but a sweet one it seemed. Has Germany produced a bigger sports star than Witt? The Yuna Kim of her era seems to me.
I didn't mean to sound anti-European by saying that Kat wasn't on a lot of greatest-skater lists. I suppose that's a factor over here, but a lot of us Americans (me certainly included) have Japanese skaters all over our lists of greatest skaters. I just don't think Kat's skating was unusually spectacular for its time.
Obviously I can't compare Witt to what skaters do today. I take that into consideration when thinking about her. What I'm saying is that few people say that Witt is great because of, say, her amazing spins or the way she made other people have to do lutzes as good as hers, or her speed across the ice. I've only ever heard her complimented on her competitive cool when all others faltered. This was her edge.
By contrast, YuNa, for example, has those huge, textbook triple-triples. Mao at her best could execute at least one triple axel in every competition, which is more than even Tonya Harding ever could do, plus she has such smoothness and musicality. Lucinda Ruh spun in a way that no one else had ever envisioned.
I don't have the technical knowledge to make my point with any greater depth than that. On paper, Witt is one of the most accomplished skaters ever. But in terms of technique or musical creativity, was she a giant of her time? I'm not sure. Of course, she made wonderful contributions to skating, both as an amateur and as a pro. I enjoyed her career and her personality. As Skateluvr points out, she looked like a mature person, not a preteen sprite, and that in itself is a contribution.
I think the whole package was very good, enough to win. She was very good in generally, not in one thing. Plus is a very good and smart competitor.