DENVER, JAN. 8 -- Debi Thomas continued her hold on the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a new-wave performance in the women's short program competition today, but not before second-place Caryn Kadavy skated to a near tie with a ballet-themed routine at McNichols Arena.

Thomas received first-place marks from five of nine judges for her routine to "Something In My House" by the rock group Dead or Alive to remain atop the field. She included a double toe loop-triple toe combination but barely won the short program over Kadavy, who got first place marks from the other four judges but received slightly lower marks for technical merit. Both skaters completed their jumps and spins without mishap, with Thomas receiving six 5.8s (of a possible 6.0) and a 5.9 for technique.

"I'm happy," Thomas said. "I can't be much happier. I did what I wanted to do."

Kadavy, skating last, performed an elegant classical piece that included a perfect triple toe loop-double loop to receive six 5.9s for presentation. The world bronze medalist, Kadavy is considered the chief competition here for Thomas, the 1986 U.S. and world champion. Today was something of a victory for Kadavy, who fell twice in last year's short program and finished third overall.

"I took my time on everything and I kept my concentration," she said. "That's what I wanted. That was a lesson I had to learn last year, and I won't forget it."

Defending U.S. champion Jill Trenary also learned a lesson. She was in third place with a routine to "Irma La Douce" that was marred by a stumble on her opening combination jump, receiving marks ranging from 5.4 to 5.8.

"I think I just got a little overexcited," she said.

The short program represents the second portion of the competition, and counts for 20 percent of the final results. The women's final long program (50 percent) will be skated Saturday night (WJLA-TV-7, 8 p.m.). A victory for either Thomas or Kadavy in the long program would clinch the gold medal. Trenary's chances of gold are slimmer, because even having the best long program marks would give her the title only if Thomas finished lower than second.

The U.S. Olympic team will be selected afterward, largely on the basis of the results here, and the three leaders have little competition at this point from the rest of the field. Thomas is seeking a title and some confidence going into the Olympics next month in Calgary, where she will face defending world and Olympic champion Katerina Witt of East Germany.

In pairs competition tonight, world bronze medalists and U.S. defending champions Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard won the short program handily with a modernistic routine that drew three scores of 5.9 for technical merit and four more for presentation. Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner, the 1986 champions, were second with a Spanish dance, followed by Natalie and Wayne Seybold, who claimed third with a cowboy number.

The long program will be held Saturday afternoon, with the three Olympic teams announced afterwards. Watson and Oppegard won a bronze medal at the worlds last spring that was considered a coup, and a large stride towards challenging the dominant Soviets in Calgary.

Later, three-time defending champion Brian Boitano was to perform his long program in the men's championship. Thursday night, Boitano set what officials believed to be a U.S. men's short program record when he received perfect scores of 6.0 for artistic impression from eight of nine judges. That extended his lead over second-place Christopher Bowman and third-place Paul Wylie.

Boitano was seeking to become the third consecutive man to win four straight titles, following Scott Hamilton and Charlie Tickner. A victory here would give him increased prestige going into the Calgary Olympics, where he will meet Brian Orser of Canada, to whom he relinquished his '86 world title last spring.

As a result of that loss, Boitano enlisted choreographer Susan Bezic, and developed a new ice persona with artistic flair. That was the one thing the 24-year-old from Sunnyvale, Calif., always a brilliant technician, had been accused of lacking. Thursday, his short routine brought gasps and a standing ovation.

Initially, Boitano had trouble with adopting the acting routines roles Bezic wanted him to perform. "It's cocky, which I don't think I am," he said of the new style.

The change is considered essential if Boitano is to keep the Olympic gold medal out of the hands of Orser, who always has been considered the more artistic of the two.

The Olympic ice dancing pairs were selected Thursday night, when Suzanne Semanick and Scott Gregory, injury-hampered but steady, barely won the gold medal to defend their 1987 title. Susan Wynne and Joseph Druar won the silver to claim the second spot on the Olympic team. Only two ice dancing pairs can compete in Calgary, compared to three for the other events. Bronze medalists April Sargent and Russ Witherby were named alternates.

Semanick and Gregory skated a limited long program that included no lifts, but garnered three scores of 5.9 and six of 5.8 for artistic impression. The couple, who finished fifth in the world championships, were unable to perform lifts because Gregory still is recovering from a ruptured disk suffered two months ago.

"It was a lot of mental stress," Gregory said. "There was no pain. I'm just glad we accomplished what we set out to do, which was overcome the injury."

The pair will return to training and reinstate the lifts in time for Calgary, Coach Ron Ludington said. Gregory was unable to so much as skate in a circle a month ago, but made remarkable progress and has been called ready to compete by doctors.

"It's incredible to watch his progress," Ludington said. "We keep him lying down every day. It's like prison. We only let him out to skate."