WINTER OLYMPICS : Women's Figure Skating : Thomas Is 2nd, Witt 3rd After Figures

Times Staff Writer

Debi Thomas' coach, Alex McGowan, said he was relieved when the United States' Brian Boitano won the gold medal in men's figure skating Saturday night--not for Boitano but for Thomas.

"It took a lot of pressure off Debi," he said. "If Brian hadn't won, Debi would have been the United States' only hope for a gold medal in figure skating."

Thomas did not necessarily agree. She felt so much pressure Wednesday during the first phase of her competition, the compulsory figures, that she slept through most of it.

It did not seem to affect her as she finished second, one place behind the Soviet Union's Kira Ivanova and one place ahead of East Germany's Katarina Witt, the defending champion, entering tonight's short program. The medals will be awarded after Saturday night's long program.

With 31 skaters in the women's competition, the compulsory figures took eight hours to complete. Thomas actually was in the Father David Bauer Arena for about an hour.

Between the first and second figures, she returned to the athletes' village and slept. Between the second and third figures, she returned to the athletes' village and slept. When she learned upon returning to the arena for her third figure that there still were several skaters ahead of her, she went to the dressing room and slept.

"I did that because I didn't want to feel the nerves," said Thomas, from San Jose. "I've done that ever since I was a little kid. If I have butterflies, I don't want to feel them.

"I'm proud I didn't let the Olympic pressure overwhelm me. In all those weeks before the national championships (last month in Denver), I worried about getting to the Olympics and letting the pressure take over. But it didn't. My figures could have been better, but, considering the pressure, I think they were OK."

Thomas finished fourth in the first figure but won the next two. She could not have expected to finish higher than second overall because Ivanova consistently is the world's best in compulsory figures, which count toward 30% of the final score. But Ivanova is not a strong freestyle skater, setting the stage for Thomas and Witt. The short program is worth 20% and the long program 50%.

Witt said she was pleased with her results, particularly when she considered that she had to come from fifth place after the compulsory figures to win the 1987 World Championships.

"I think she's improved," said Carlo Fassi, who coaches three women in the competition, including Americans Jill Trenary of Minnetonka, Minn., and Caryn Kadavy of Erie, Pa. "I still don't think she's a great figures skater. But she's concentrating better, and her figures don't have any silly mistakes. A few years ago, she was wobbling."

Fassi had mixed emotions about his U.S. competitors. Trenary, the 1987 national champion and the runner-up this year to Thomas, was ninth after the first figure but improved to fifth overall. Only Canada's Elizabeth Manley stands between Trenary and the first three. Kadavy finished third in the first figure but was 10th in the third and dropped to seventh overall. Later, she was in tears.

Trenary has improved considerably since last year, when she finished 11th in figures at the world championships.

"I can't believe it; I'm in shock," she said. "This puts me in a great position to get a medal. It also proves to me that I'm tough, being able to come back from that first figure and skate the other two consistently."

It was a good day all around for Trenary, who returned to the apartment her father has rented between the first and second figures and played cards with him.

"I won $50 from him in gin rummy," she said. "I knew then that things were going to get better for me."

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