CALGARY, FEB. 17 -- She has arrived. The Nikons quicken, the Pentaxes snap, and Katarina Witt enters the room with a "hello-my-darlings" smile that slays them.

Witt, the East German two-time world and defending Olympic champion in women's figure skating, has come here to establish once and for all her preeminence in both athletic and cosmetic pursuits. But of course they adore her and why shouldn't they? She is the very picture of grace.

Not since Peggy Fleming won three world titles in the 1960s has figure skating been so entrancing. Should Witt win her second Olympic gold medal when the event begins with compulsories next Wednesday, she would become the first since Sonia Henie to do so.

Tuesday night, she is arrayed in plum, regally facing a capacity news conference of 400 reporters from all over the world. Only Debi Thomas of the United States, the 1986 world champion, has garnered half this attention. Thomas is also the only skater who has beaten Witt since she won a gold medal in Sarajevo in 1984. Witt contemplates the competition:

"Whoever has the greatest nerve has the greatest chance to win," she says.

Witt's nerve is perhaps her second most valuable quality. While it is perfectly all right to be beguiled by her beauty, which is every bit as stunning as it has been made out, (she turned down a $1 million offer from a cosmetics company) do not be deceived by it. She is a calculating, determined competitor who gives no quarter to her opponents.

That is illustrated by her decided coolness toward Thomas of whom she said, "We have no personal relationship." By an odd coincidence, both Witt and Thomas have chosen to skate to music from Bizet's "Carmen" in the decisive long program. Their meeting here has been called "Dueling Carmens," and although both agree the two interpretations are different, neither is amused.

But more than that, Thomas represents perhaps the only threat to Witt's stated intention to retire as a champion, something she wants badly.

"I worked harder on this than I ever have," she said. "In the last four years there has been just sports for me. This was the most important thing."

Over those four years, Witt has acheived the status of national hero in East Germany, where she receives thousands of international marriage proposals through the mail. While most East Germans wait 10 years for a car and an apartment, at 22 Witt has her own flat in Karl Marx Stadt and drives a small Russian-made sedan, and her clothing is always fashionable.

Her taste in music and choreography lean towards Glenn Miller and George Gershwin, while off the ice she likes Madonna and acid washed jeans. She is also an admitted flirt who, when one reporter jokingly proposed to her, replied, "We'd have to get to know each other better."

Her flamboyant style on and off the ice has occasionally drawn criticism from opponents and their coaches. At times on the ice she has performed as Maria from "West Side Story," and a risque belly dancer. "In a way this is part of skating." she said. "It's an expression of grace and beauty. I think everyone prefers looking at a well-shaped woman . . . I think our dress and manner should enhance the music. When I wear the right costume I feel much better. Why shouldn't we stress what is attractive and enhance it?"

Beyond her sometimes liberal taste, however, Witt remains a loyal East German athlete who was raised in the methodical, extremely disciplined tradition of that state's sports clubs. Witt began skating at age 5, and at 9 began working with famed trainer Jutta Muller, who has produced a procession of skaters who have won more than 50 international medals. Marked as a potential champion after an exhaustive study that included tests of her mental skills, physical makeup and hereditary qualities, Witt was marked as a potential champion and treated accordingly.

"I would never have been a skater in another country, because my parents could not have afforded it," she said. "So it was a good thing it {skating} was promoted in my country."

Witt's relationship with Muller is complex. Over the last 13 years she has spent more time with Muller than with her family, training 11 months a year; six hours a day. Muller choreographed for Witt and chose her music, costumes and makeup. Interestingly enough, it was this dogged, unsmiling coach who is primarily responsible for cultivating Witt's persona.

"I think I owe everything to her," Witt said. "I'm very grateful to her, even if she has been very demanding and severe. Even when we were not always in agreement and I was feeling low, it's been a success. She has formed me in all areas."

Muller is indeed severe, a small, dark and usually impassive woman. But her affection for Witt is obvious; she said she derived more satisfaction from a decade-long relationship than from training an athlete who was already developed.

As Witt has gotten older, she said Muller's control has loosened somewhat, although she will occasionally veto something.

"As she was growing up, I listened to her taste and direction, and as she grew things changed," Muller said. "I also know when to be strict and not give in. I say, 'Yes, you've had your way and now I have to insist.'"

Witt's career will finally end with the world championships in Budapest at the end of March. But Witt does not intend for her popularity, so carefully cultivated by her and Muller, to end.

After that, she will enroll in an acting school in Berlin with the hope of becoming, of course, a film star. Having attained the status of great diva, she is loathe to give it up.

"At the end, when the public applauds, this fufills dreams," she said. "It's why you trained so hard and went through all of this."