This Soldier's No Toy

by Jill Smolowe, Reported by Ellie McGrath/Calgary

Time February 29, 1988


Brian Boitano brought home America's first gold an with an extra edge of echnique defeated his rival, Canada's Brian Orser. But the winning margin was a narrow one.

Three days. Two Brians. One gold medal. So the tense scene was set as America's Brian Boitano and Canada's Brian Orser faced off Saurday evening in the Olympic Saddledome. The compulsory figures and short program had decided nothing. The final verdict would, after all, come down to 4 1/2 lonely minutes on the ice. True to form, the much touted similarities between the two friends and rivals continued to the very last. Apparently they knew there was a war on, because each was dressed in military-style, Boitano in blue, Orser in crimson, both their costumes brightened by gold braid. Each skated everything he had, bringing the best of his skill and grace to the impossibly tense moment. Their clash was the most exciting men's final in memory. When it was all done, Orser had captured the competition's only perfect 6.0. But Boitano had laid claim to the gold.

Boitano could be counted on to enrich the trophy trove, but as he went into the final program, the hue was anything but certain. In addition, as the men approached the long segment, which counts for 50% of the total score, Boitano held the narrowest of leads. His stronger showing in the painstaking figures (worth 30%) gave him the edge, despite Orser's higher marks in the short program (worth 20%). But that segment, lasting no longer than 2 1/4 minutes, was a boost for both men. Orser delivered a jazzy Fred Astaire send-up that he later called 'my best short program ever in competition." Boitano was also pleased, humbly mouthing "Thank you, God" just seconds after completing an elegant programthat featured a cocky young skater at play.

As Boitano waited to tae the ice, all traces of that assumed arrogance had vanished. Hovering near the edges of the rink, he blew his nose repeatedly and nervously tightened his laces. Later he would describe the battle raging in his head as he skated to the center of the rink, one voice gaoding, "This is it! This is it!" while another soothed, "You know what to do," When the elaborate music of Carmine Coppola's Napoleon filled the Saddledome, Boitano inhaled deeply, then focused his 16 years of training on the moment.

Soundly landing the first jump, his trademark 'Tano triple, which adds the gravitational challenge of an upstretched arm to a triple Lutz, Boitano moved through a quick series of military gestures. His recent emphasis on choreography was paying off. Then he glided into a difficult combination jump. As he nailed the landing, his choreographer, Sandra Bezic, started jumping up and down. Even Boitano seemed to let go of some of his tension. Only in the final moments, however, did he indulge his mountingexuberance. As he swirled into his final spin, he broke into a rradient smile. Then he came to a triumphant halt - and fough back tears of joy.

Orser also skated brilliantly, so powerrfully in fact that four of the nine judges rated his performance higher than Boitano's. Clearly the Canadian audience adored hm. During his program, the cheers werre so loudthat it was sometimes impossible to hear Shostakovich's The Bolt. As Orser finished, teddy bears and hundreds of flowers rained onto th ice. When he learned that he had again, as in 1984, placed second, he fought back tears and said, "I'm disappointed. What can I say?"

Therre were other setbacks. Alexandr Fadeev, a Soviet skater who had been touted for the bronze,,stumbled twice, enabling his younger teammate, Victor perenko, to take the medal. And Canadian Kurt Browning braved the quadruple jump of the Olympic competition, only to fall. U.S. skater Christopher Bowman finished a solid seventh, and teammate Paul Wylie, who recovered from two earlier spills to hand in a graceful performance, placed tenth.