WINTER OLYMPICS : Notebook : Cover Girl Thomas Not Fooled by Publicity

Times Staff Writer

Time magazine cover girl Debi Thomas, the United States' best hope for a gold medal in women's figure skating, is not fooled by all the publicity she has been receiving.

"I'm on the cover of everything," she said, "but, in the articles, they all say that Katarina is the favorite."

She was referring to East Germany's Katarina Witt, who is expected to become the first woman since Norway's Sonja Henie (1928, '32, '36) to repeat as Olympic champion. The women's competition begins today with compulsory figures.

Jill Trenary, the 1987 U.S. champion and the runner-up to Thomas this year, said she does not begrudge that Thomas and Witt have received most of the attention.

"I think the rest of us are worth thinking about at least," she said. "But Katarina is the Olympic champion and Debi has been a world champion (1986). They've earned their publicity. They deserve that. But I don't think it's impossible that someone won't skate as well as they do."

Thomas' coach, Alex McGowan, formerly was a junior coach in Bristol, England, where one of his pupils was 1980 Olympic champion Robin Cousins.

"He didn't teach me to skate, but he coached me in advanced learn-to-skate classes," said Cousins, who now coaches at Lake Arrowhead. "That was 1967. I was still in rental skates. He wasn't too happy about that."

Thomas spent three weeks last summer in Lake Arrowhead with Cousins, who choreographed her short and long programs.

Wina Sturgeon of Los Angeles, a volunteer course worker at Mt. Allan, said she was in the lobby of her hotel, the Kananaskis Lodge, Sunday night, when she ran into a woman who was looking for a telephone so that she could make a long-distance call.

Sturgeon allowed the woman to use the phone in her room, refusing her offers to pay for the call. Only later did she discover that the woman was Swiss skier Michela Figini. When Figini won the silver medal in the Super G Monday, she gave the bouquet of roses she received to Sturgeon.

"For her to remember in her moment of glory was just incredible," Sturgeon said. "Is she the greatest or what?"

American gold medalist Bonnie Blair, who comes from a skating family, put on her first pair of skates when she was two, but she had to wear shoes under her skates.

"They didn't make skates that small," Blair said.

A lot of family was cheering Blair to victory in her 500-meter race Monday night.

Blair listed them: "My mom and dad, my older brother Chuck, my sister Mary and her husband Ted and their four kids, my sister Susie, my brother Rob and his wife sister and their daughter, my sister Angela and my uncle Lenny."

Mom got the tickets, Blair said.

U.S. ski jumpers have dropped 28 places in the 90-meter event since the last Winter Olympics, when Jeff Hastings finished fourth behind winner Matti Nykanen of Finland at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984.

On Tuesday, Mike Holland of Norwich, Vt., was the leading American in 32nd place. He had leaps of 95.6 and 95.1 meters (about 314 feet each), for 170.6 points, more than 53 behind Nykanen, who again won the gold medal.

In '84, Holland was 37th. Hastings has since retired.

Mark Konopacke, the top U.S. jumper in the 70-meter competition Feb. 14, when he placed 18th behind gold medalist Nykanen, was 42nd Tuesday.

Alpine skiers took a day off from competition Tuesday but will go back into action for four straight days, starting today.

Tamara McKinney, who won the World Cup overall title in 1983, will be appearing in her first international race of the season today when she skis in the women's giant slalom at Mt. Allan.

McKinney suffered a leg injury in late November and worked out on her own before winning the slalom and finishing third in the giant slalom against a strictly domestic field at the National Alpine Championships earlier this month in Copper Mountain, Colo.

The men's giant slalom will be held Thursday, the women's slalom Friday and the men's slalom Saturday.

Bighorn sheep are apparently going out of their way to avoid the Olympic Alpine ski runs. Their population on Mt. Allan is down 18% from last winter, according to the Alberta provincial fish and wildlife division.

A recent census counted only 243 animals on the mountain, compared with 297 in early 1987. Additionally, the incidence of lungworm has risen sharply, according to the division, indicating the sheep are under more stress.

The well-being of the bighorn sheep population was one of the considerations raised by environmentalists when a ski area was first proposed for Mt. Allan in pre-Olympic planning.

You can order 32 kinds of breakfast omelets at the Humpty's restaurants in Calgary, including:

Asparagus, banana, corned beef, creole sauce, sweet cherry, oyster, Mexican sauce, Spanish onion, salmon, chili, roast beef, dill pickle and peanut butter.

Times assistant sports editors Mike Kupper and Bob Lochner contributed to this story.

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