0ne Flash of Gold

Newsweek February 29, 1988

In the battle of Brians, Boitano holds off Orser and buoys America's sagging spirits at last. With the world watching his every lutz and double axel, and Canada's most dazzling figure skater close on his heels, Brian Boitano became America's first 1988 Olympic champion on Saturday night, sending his own fortunes soaring and changing the atmosphere at the Calgary Games. Suddenly, snappily, like ... well, like a Boitano triple jump, the United States was there. As he moved crisply and confidently through his militaristic maneuvers, inching out pre-Olympics favorite Brian Orser by 5 judges to 4, Boitano made the awkward and sometimes tragic tumbles of the past week seem like old news. "I didn't care what color medal I got," he said afterward. "I just wanted to do well, and now I consider this a victory for all Americans." To the other members of the U.S. team, who had perhaps begun to wonder if it was possible to wrest a medal away from one of the traditional Winter Olympics powers, those words were more than just a press-conference cliche'.

Boitano's triumph was not "storybook" in the sense that it was entirely unexpected: he came into the final phase of the competition with a lead over Orser and the Soviet Union's Aleksandr Fadeyev. But the three men were so tightly grouped in the standings-Fadeyev had won the compulsories, Orser the short program-that grace under pressure meant more, in the end, than skating skill. Indeed, the two Brians seemed to emphasize the closeness of the competition with their wardrobe; both men wore mock military costumes. Boitano's outfit was deep blue with a dark red cummerbund, a relatively conservative combination that fit his relatively controlled style. Orser wore a red and gold getup that suited his more flamboyant technique.

Except for one two-foot landing, Boitano was flawless as he glided and swirled through a program that was supposed to portray eight aspects of a soldier's life. Orser also came within one bad landing of perfection, but his slip was more obvious, and that may have decided who gets the big bucks for endorsements.

In the end, despite their on ice images, it was Orser who seemed restrained as he said, "I'm not going to engage in hindsight-I did my best." Meanwhile it was Boitano, so often portrayed as overly technical and even robotlike, who proved the more emotional, at least that night. "I just wanted to prove to myself that I could hold up under the pressure," said the 24 year-old skater from Sunnyvale, California. Still, as the last strains of the music from "Napoleon and Josephine" reverberated through the arena, Boitano began to cry.

Saturday was quite a day for America, all around. During the first seven days of the Olympics, the United States had managed to pick up only one medal, a bronze in pairs figure skating. A couple of hours before Boitano got his gold, however, speed-skater Eric Flaim, 20, slipped away with a silver medal in the 1,500-meter race.