Advertisement

Pain Now Accompanies Success for Bowman : Figure skating: He has improved since breaking up with coach, but 18-year relationship has left scars.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Christopher Bowman, it was the most difficult question he has ever tried to answer.

“How would you characterize your relationship with Frank Carroll?” he was asked during a news conference Thursday, the day before the men’s competition began in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Target Center.

His eyes welled with tears. He tried to speak, but the words would not come. Finally, he buried his face in his hands and cried.

Even for the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. officials and reporters in the room who have been conditioned to expect the unexpected from Bowman, it was a glimpse into an heretofore unexplored region of his personality. If it was a put-on, which is not beyond the former child actor, it was worthy of Olivier. If it was real, he is in pain.

Advertisement

Sitting next to him on the stage, his coaches, Canadians Toller Cranston and Ellen Burka, clearly were perplexed. They have coached Bowman, 23, since he ended his 18-year association with Carroll in September and moved from his home in Van Nuys to Toronto.

“We’ve never seen him like this,” Burka said.

Nodding his head in agreement, Cranston added: “I’m sure he’s going to skate well tomorrow after this release of emotions. It’s just surprising to me.”

But not even Cranston expected Bowman to skate as well as he did Friday night. Performing his original program to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Bowman received 5.9s on a scale of 6.0 for presentation from seven of the nine judges.

Advertisement

He has the lead entering Sunday’s free skating over San Diego-based Todd Eldredge, who won the championship last year after Bowman withdrew with a back injury.

Bowman decided to change coaches after a humiliating sixth-place finish in last summer’s Goodwill Games, but his relationship with Carroll began to deteriorate months earlier.

They had been together since Bowman was 5, when Carroll began to coach him at the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank. Carroll often said Bowman was the world’s most talented skater. He had the 1989 national championship and third-place finishes in the ’89 and ’90 World Championships to show for it.

But Carroll, accustomed to tutoring more disciplined pupils such as Linda Fratianne and Tiffany Chin, also constantly complained about Bowman’s work ethic. Bowman was not merely proud of his nickname, “Hans Brinker From Hell.” He coined it for himself.

Advertisement

The end, in effect, came during last year’s World Championships, when Bowman missed a crucial jump early in the free skating phase of the competition and, to compensate, improvised the remainder of Carroll’s carefully choreographed program.

The judges rewarded Bowman with a bronze medal, but he and Carroll turned the kiss-and-cry area, where skaters go after performances to await scores, into the pout-and-shout. Carroll later called Bowman “a maniac.” Although hardly speaking to each other, they remained together through the Goodwill Games five months later.

“I told my parents after the Goodwill Games that I was going to stop skating for good, the reason being that I could no longer work with Frank,” Bowman said at the news conference after regaining his composure. “I told them that I would rather my skating be over than to alienate somebody that I really cared about.

“But the hard-core bottom line of sports is that, to be the best, you oftentimes have to make certain sacrifices. One of those is leaving friends behind. I’m still very concerned about the people around me, but I understand that I have to take care of A Number One, and that’s Christopher.

Advertisement

“I desperately want to do everything I can to be a champion. I don’t want to be another great American skater who fell by the wayside.”

He said he contacted Cranston, a former Canadian Olympian, during the Goodwill Games as “an act of desperation” and decided a month later to resume his career in Toronto.

Cranston and Burka, who also coached him, divided duties. So that Cranston could keep close watch on his new student, a carouser of international repute, Bowman moved into his house.

“Ellen was day care, and I was night care,” Cranston said.

Advertisement

Together, they worked toward changing his “Bowman the Showman” image.

“I very much like the idea of being very progressive about skating,” Cranston said. “I admire skaters who bend the rules, change them and make skating different.

“That was absolutely not the route to go with Christopher Bowman. He had to go straight down the middle of the road. That means serious music, serious skating and intense concentration on self-expression. The cheeseburger had to be changed into filet mignon.”

Bowman now performs in black, to classical music.

Advertisement

“Just because people would rather see AC/DC as opposed to Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t mean it’s not all good,” he said.

His most recent results have been all good--a second place in Skate America at Buffalo and a first place in the Lalique Trophy at Paris.

But he has not been able to share his success with Carroll.

“By changing coaches, thinking that it was going to save our friendship, it is now to the point that we do not speak to each other,” Bowman said. “And that’s what really kills me inside.”

Advertisement

Carroll, who coaches at the International Ice Castles near Lake Arrowhead, said this week he does not hold a grudge against Bowman, even though the skater had already moved to Toronto before he informed him of the coaching change.

“I coached him for 18 years,” Carroll said. “Of course, I wish him well.”


Advertisement