Thomas and Boitano take gold to Calgary

By Steve Woodward

USA TODAY

DENVER - Debi Thomas and Brian Boitano will arrive at next month's Winter Olympics bearing similar credentials - 1988 US. Figure Skating Championships gold medalists.

But that's the extent of parallels between their experiences during the competition's conclusion last weekend. Thomas skated brilliantly to regain the U.S. title she held in 1986. Boitano's performance was good enough for a fourth consecutive title, but was his least impressive of recent memory

Before Saturday's freestyle program-4 worth 50 percent in scoring, Thomas showed emotional restraint "I just hope I stay on my feet" The former world champion did that and more, receiving no score lower than. 5.8 (on a scale of 6).

With her job done, Thomas, of Boulder, Colo., lost composure when a recording of the ABC Olympic theme song was played during the medal awards. After the tears dried, Thomas, 20, welcomed the mention of East German world champion Katarina Witt the Olympic favorite.

"I'm happy to have this step over with," said Thomas, named to the Olympic team with Jill Trenary and Kadavy. "But there are a lot of things in my program to be improved upon. We wouldn't want my best performance to be (in Denver)."

That was not among Boitano's concerns after he finished ahead of Paul Wylie and Christopher Bowman.

Two of Boitano's triple jump moves were flawed by off-balance landings. Afterward, he said, "I would not be happy with this program" at the Olympics. Coach Linda Leaver even said she thought "his marks were high," referring to one judge who gave Boitano a 6.0 for composition and style, and to technical merit scores of 5.9 from all nine judges.

Boitano will probably be eager to shift attention toward Canadian world champion Brian Orser and the Winter Olympics. The men's final might have exposed a judging system whereby champions and other medalists appear to be pre-selected in Olympic years.

"You want so badly to see that perfect 6.0," said Gale Tanger of Wauwatosa, Wis., a U.S. judge who watched Boitano as a spectator. "We (judges) all want that very badly. You want your skater to leave the country (before the Olympics) in perfect shape, if it's possible."

Susan Johnson, chairman of the U.S. Figure Skating Association judges committee, said a 6.0 no longer denotes a perfect and flawless performance, even though "that is what a 6.01 means according to the rules."

Scheduling was controversial, too. The men's final did not end until 3 am. EST Saturday, and by that afternoon Boitano concluded he was too tired for an optimum performance.