Skate Canada : Thomas Waltzes to Women's Title

Times Staff Writer

With help from Bizet and Baryshnikov, former world champion Debi Thomas left a couple of triple jumps in the dressing room and put her artistic side on display Saturday in winning the women's championship at Skate Canada.

It was her sixth different international championship, believed to be more than any other woman has ever won. But perhaps more significantly for Thomas, the victory came less than four months before the 1988 Winter Olympic skating competition begins at this same Olympic Saddledome rink.

"The judges here now have seen her new program," said Thomas' coach, Alex McGowan. "They gave her good marks. Now, they will go away to their countries and say, 'Debi Thomas looks good,' and that's the message we wanted to send."

McGowan said he also was impressed that Thomas, who is from San Jose, was able to come into Canada and beat that country's champion, Elizabeth Manley, who finished second. Great Britain's Joanne Conway, who trains in Colorado Springs, was third.

It was close. After Thomas and Manley split victories in the compulsory figures and the short program earlier in the week, the championship would belong to the one who finished first in Saturday's long program.

Thomas did, but by a split decision, four judges to three.

The other U.S.-Canada duel Saturday night went to the Canadian, world champion Brian Orser, 26, of Penetanguishene, Ontario. He added a victory in the long program to his earlier successes in the compulsory figures and short program and beat three-time U.S. champion Brian Boitano, 24, the 1986 world champion and 1987 runner-up to Orser, for the men's championship.

Skating his new long program to Carmine Coppolla's "Napoleon," Boitano, who is from Sunnyvale, Calif., had what he later called one of his best performances ever and earned a standing ovation from a pro-Orser crowd.

But while Boitano's program was more polished, Orser's was more energetic. He received a longer standing ovation. The judges also liked his performance better, 5 of 7 giving him the edge. Despite falling three times, the Soviet Union's Victor Petrenko was third.

In the pairs competition, Canada's Christine Hough and Doug Ladret won over the Soviet Union's Elena Kvitchenko and Rashid Kadyrkaev. Katy Keeley of San Diego and Joseph Mero of Costa Mesa were third.

Thomas, 20, appeared more relieved than excited to have won. It was the first time in competition that she had skated her new long program, which she performed to Bizet's "Carmen".

Much has been made of the program because of the help she received last August in choreographing it from Mikhail Baryshnikov. He spent one hour with her in New York and then asked another ballet choreographer, George de la Pena, to continue working with her.

"Just being in the same room with Baryshnikov makes you feel like you're great," Thomas said.

Thomas is one of the world's most athletic skaters--some detractors have called her a fullback--but she is attempting to balance her force with a show of grace.

Even she admitted that she might have overdone it Saturday, although the judges seemed to like the new dimension. Forty-one seconds into her four-minute program, she completed a triple-toe combination but had only two more triple jumps in her program, her final one, a triple axel, coming about 10 seconds from the end.

She chose not to do one triple jump that she had planned and said she probably will add one more before the National Championships Jan. 4-10 at Denver.

"I really like the program," Thomas said. "I liked it even in practice when I couldn't do it."

One person who was not impressed was Manley's coach, Peter Dunfield.

"Elizabeth went 60 m.p.h. for four minutes," he said. "Debi went 10 miles an hour and did a lot of posing."

But Dunfield did not disagree with the judges. Thomas' program was clean, unlike Manley's. She had to balance herself with her hand on a triple lutz 33 seconds into the program and could not complete a double salchow. She, like Thomas, did four triples.

"I didn't want my peak performance to come out today," said Manley, fourth in the world last year. "I'm really not considering this a bad performance. I held myself together and was fighting right through to the end."

Thomas said winning at this point in the season is not as important as performing well.

"The main thing is to go out and nail a program," she said. "I really needed that. To go out and have a good performance I think will help me the rest of the year."

As for next February, when she returns to Calgary for the Olympics, she said her experience here might give her an advantage over some skaters but not East German Katarina Witt, who dethroned Thomas at the world championships last March in Cincinnati. Witt chose not to compete here.

"Katarina is used to going out and skating wherever without any problems," Thomas said. "She came to my country and took my title. She won't have any trouble adjusting to this facility."

That remains to be seen. The beginning of the end came for Manley in the short program Friday night, when she came out of a spin wrong, became disoriented because all four Saddledome corners look the same and skated the remainder of her program backwards.

"I wonder if the Calgary Flames ever get their nets mixed up," she said.

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