Figure Skater's Meld Skill with Pizazz

By Dick Button

Special for USA TODAY


There's a lot to look at in the upcoming Olympic figure skating events.

First, consider the age old rivalry of athletics vs. artistry. Is it more important to complete seven triple jumps or perform a program that is creative, interesting and musical?

In this line, compare the three top men skaters: Alexander Fadeev of the Soviet Union, Brian Boitano of the USA and Brian Orser of Canada. Each has been a world champion, and each is different. Despite Fadeev's athleticism, this contest probably will be a battle between the styles of the two Brians.

Orser is small, tight, quick and very "dancey." He's a wonderful transposer of Broadway's best soft-shoe traditions to the ice. Boltano is tall, majestic, powerful and presents a noble style of skating. Both skated superb short programs in their national championships, but disastrously in the long.

Keep in mind the difference between the short and long programs: The short is only two minutes and has seven required elements . It's far easier to present than developing and maintaining the long program which lasts 4 1/2 minutes and is necessarily more complicated and difficult.

In the dance events, style is paramoun.t There are vast differences among Natalia Bestendanova and Andrei Bukin of the Soviet Union - the world champions and the favorites here - Marina Ehmova, Sergei Ponomarenko of the Soviet Union and the Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France.

Besternianova and Bukin are frenetic practitioners of the art of ice dancing, they wear their emotions on their sleeves and blast you with technical brilliance. Mimova and Ponomarenko are languid, lovely, laidback, moving with subtle grace. The Duchesnays are fresh faces, choreographed with distinction by Christopher Dean. They will cause a sensation with their primitive, jungle-like program, called "Savage Rite."

Finally, don't forget the ladies. What a contrast Katarina Witt of East Germany is lovely, a beauty who is fresh, charming and unspoiled, despite her Olympic and world titles and a million fan letters. She will skate a short program right out of a Broadway showgirl's dream: Blue feathers, strategically placed rhinestones and soft-shoe tapping. She will also skatea long program taking on the rolr of the flirtatious femme fatale.

The USA's Debi Thomas, also skating to Carmen, is a magnificient contrast to Witt: strong, majestic and combative. Her work with Mikhail Baryshnikov and George De LaPena of the American Ballet Theate could lead her into new dimensions in the emotionally demanding Carmen.

mensions in the emotionaR demanding Carmen.

Remember when watching; that the judges are like you and me, spectators waiting to be enthralled.