For Trenary, It Figures to Be a Skater's Waltz

Times Staff Writer

If you want to see sex in sports this week, you'll have to buy a swimsuit issue. You won't see it, or at least not as much of it in recent years, at the U.S. figure skating championships.

By an edict of the International Skating Union (ISU), there will be no more Debi Thomas unitards, Katarina Witt plunging necklines or Jill Trenary costume bottoms that don't quite cover the bottom. The sport will have a G-rating, not G-strings.

That shouldn't be a problem for Trenary, who could win the women's individual championship this week at the Baltimore Arena in a sack dress. This isn't a competition for Trenary, it's her coronation as the new queen of U.S. figure skating.

Now that Thomas has retired and Caryn Kadavy is out with an ankle injury, Trenary, 20, of Minnetonka, Minn., is the only female individual skater returning from the U.S. Olympic team.

She was fourth at the Calgary Games and fifth a month later in the World Championships at Budapest, Hungary. Besides, she won this title once before, upsetting Thomas in 1987. She was second to Thomas last year. The only one who can beat Trenary this year is Trenary.

"I expect her to win," said Trenary's coach, Carlo Fassi of the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs. "It's tough when you expect her to win. She's skating well, but I worry that she'll get nervous. She never did when she was chasing people. But it's more difficult when you're on top."

Trenary doesn't seem concerned. She said that she has been preparing for this morning, when the competition begins with the compulsory figures, ever since she discovered spins and jumps while playing pond hockey on double- runner skates as a 5-year-old.

"I'm not the underdog anymore," she said. "I don't want to deny that. It's the truth. But I'm prepared for all the eyes being on me. It's where I've always wanted to be.

"I always looked up to the one who people were shooting at. If it wasn't Debi, it was Rosalynn (Sumners) or Dorothy (Hamill). Now I have to deal with it."

The other events are less predictable.

Gold medalist Brian Boitano retired, but his Olympic teammates, Christopher Bowman of Van Nuys and Paul Wylie of Denver, are expected to duel for the men's individual championship.

Both of last year's top pairs teams retired, but Olympians Natalie and Wayne Seybold of Marion, Ind., and the fourth-place finishers from last year's national championships, Katy Keeley and Joseph Mero of Costa Mesa, return.

In dance, one-half of the U.S. championship team, Suzanne Semanick of Bridgeville, Pa., is back with a new partner, Ron Kravette of Costa Mesa. Also returning are Olympians Susan Wynne of Camillus, N.Y., and Joseph Druar of Amherst, N.Y., who led after the compulsories Tuesday night.

Bowman and Wylie have disagreed this week about which one is the successor to four-time national champion Boitano's throne. Even though Bowman, 21, finished higher than Wylie, 24, in the Olympics and the World Championships last year, Wylie was the runner-up to Boitano at the national championships. Bowman finished third.

"So technically, he's the heir apparent," Bowman said.

"Whatever," Wylie said Tuesday, finally relenting. "I think co-favorites is a better term for it."

Wylie has skated better in practice, but that's not necessarily significant because Bowman almost always saves his best for performances. Bowman suffered a deep cut in his left shin in December, when he crossed paths with another skater at an exhibition in Burbank. He said that he wore a cast for a month, but believes he is 98% recovered.

"I got the injury while we were skating a comedy routine to 'California Girls,' " he said. "They took me to the hospital in drag. I was wearing a dress and panty hose, and these nurses were saying, 'Aren't you Chris Bowman, the Olympian?' "

Bowman and Wylie couldn't be more different. Wylie, whose parents live in Yorba Linda, is an honor student at Harvard, taking courses last semester in Shogun history, U.S.-Soviet foreign relations, dramatic arts and literature of social reflection. Bowman is a hyperactive, fun-loving former child actor who may be the most gossiped about skater in the sport's history. He admits only to having chased a few skirts in his formative years.

"I'm the one who every mother wants to introduce to their daughter," Wylie told the Baltimore Sun. "Chris is the one who mothers are afraid of, but who all the daughters want to go out with."

Which one will win? Nearly every move they make is being watched for clues.

"Chris told me the other day that he feels like he's in a microwave," Wylie said. "Everyone is searing you with that look."

But there is almost no question that they will finish first and second.

"I don't think, realistically, that anyone else is there yet," Wylie said. "There's no one else even doing a triple axel. There are people who are capable, but no one else has really put it together."

Third-place candidates appear to be Daniel Doran of Denver, Angelo D'Agostino of Glen Ellyn, Ill., James Cygan of Colorado Springs, Colo., and perhaps Erik Larson of San Diego. Todd Eldredge, the former world junior champion, has a bad back and may not compete. But only the first and second-place finishers will advance to the world championships next month at Paris.

Even though Trenary is the clear women's favorite, there should be close competition for the other berth at Paris. The names most often mentioned are Kristi Yamaguchi of Fremont, Calif.; Holly Cook of Bountiful, Utah; Tonya Harding of Portland, Ore., and Jeri Campbell of Garden City, Mich. Nancy Kerrigan of Stoneham, Pa., could contend.

Conventional wisdom sides with Yamaguchi, 17, a former world junior champion who has impressed judges with her athleticism in recent international competition, despite her 4-foot-11, 82-pound stature. She finished second in the NHK championships behind Japan's dynamic Midori Ito.

Yamaguchi may be spread a little thin because she also is considered a contender in pairs with partner Rudi Galindo, 19, of San Jose. Galindo recently changed the spelling of his first name from Rudy to Rudi because Kristi's first name ends with an "i." Isn't that special?

Yamaguchi said that she will continue to skate singles and pairs as long as it's practical.

"I really don't want to have to choose one way or another," she said.

Yamaguchi, like many of the other skaters, most particularly Ito on the international level, will be helped this year by the de-emphasis of the compulsory figures.

They accounted for 30% of a skater's final score in the past but were reduced to 20% this year. Meantime, the short program has been lengthened, and it will count toward 30% of the final score. The freestyle program continues to be worth 50%.

Trenary once was in the same position as Yamaguchi. Her figures lagged far behind her artistic skating. But after years of tedious repetition, Trenary finally has mastered them. Now, they will be eliminated entirely in international competitions in 1991 and may also be eliminated in the national championships.

"I cried when I heard it," Trenary said. "I was on a tour, and I was tired. Someone made the comment that Midori Ito already has the gold medal around her neck. That really got to me."

Will Trenary will be around to challenge Ito in 1992?

That's difficult to predict. After the 1984 Winter Games, it was assumed that Tiffany Chin, who, like Trenary in 1988, just missed winning a medal, would be the national champion for the next four years. But there were three different national champions in the next three years, and Chin retired before the Olympics.

"This competition means so much to me," Trenary said. "I've never been in a competition that meant so much. I won this once before. I know the feeling. I want it back.

"I can't say that I'll quit if I don't win. But it would make it easier to come back next year if I win. I'm not going to wait until 1991 to decide whether I'll skate in 1992. If I go on after this year, I'll continue for all four years."

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