CALGARY, FEB. 24 -- That figure skating confrontation between Debi Thomas of the United States and Katarina Witt of East Germany will have to wait. Both trail Kira Ivanova of the Soviet Union after the compulsories, which were not the most eventful activity of the Winter Olympics today.

By the time the nine judges had finished inspecting the delicate trace marks, working out their complicated point system and displaying some apparent nationalism, neither of the favorites was in first place. Ivanova won the first part of the three-day competition, while Thomas was in second place and Witt was in third.

"When I wasn't skating, I was asleep," Thomas said.

So was most everyone else over the course of an eight-hour day that began at 8 a.m. at Father David Bauer Arena. That the Soviet skater led was not a surprise, because Ivanova has won the compulsories, worth 30 percent of the total score, in the last three world championships, only to fall out of contention. She finished fifth in the world championships last spring in Cincinnati, and is not considered nearly the caliber of Witt and Thomas.

The only momentous occurrence came when another U.S. skater, 1987 national champion Jill Trenary, rallied from ninth to fifth place and into strong position for winning a medal, which would be an upset. Another U.S. skater, world bronze medalist Caryn Kadavy, was in seventh. Kadavy was fourth after two figures and could have given the United States three places in the top five had she not slipped on her final attempt.

"I'm ecstatic," Trenary said.

Witt and Thomas will engage in more vibrant skating Thursday night in the two-minute short program, worth 20 percent of the total score. Then they will shed their warmups for flash; Witt skating in a revealing French-cut suit to the Broadway tune "Jerry's Girls" and Thomas in a black bodysuit to New Wave music.

They conclude with the long program Saturday night worth an all-important 50 percent. That climax is being billed as the "Dueling Carmens" because both Witt and Thomas have chosen music from Bizet's tragic opera as their theme. The routines are apparently different in interpretation and style, and present a compelling skate-off between two competitors who are at their peak, and don't particularly like each other.

Thomas is the only skater to defeat Witt since she won the gold medal in Sarajevo four years ago, and in the last two years they have exchanged world championships. In Geneva in 1986, Thomas prevented Witt from winning her third consecutive title, but Witt kept Thomas from a second straight gold medal in 1987.

While the compulsory portion is important for position and scoring, it is a long, laborious process that does not pit skaters against each other so much as against a geometric ideal.

The three school figures consist of variations of a figure eight that are preselected by the nine judges. Today's figures were an inside counter, a backward paragraph bracket, and a forward paragraph loop. Judges score them on line, flow, precision and accuracy, and while a perfect score is 6.0, rarely do they award marks higher than the low 4.0s.

Witt is outspoken in her dislike of school figures, and would like to see them done away with. "I think that's a good idea," she said. But she is able to raise them to the necessary level in major competitions; in last year's worlds she was in fifth place at this stage and went on to win.

Today, she was second on the first two figures, receiving marks slightly lower than Ivanova on the first, and slightly below Thomas on the second. The third was the subject of a small controversy when she appeared to stray from the loop slightly. The U.S. judge gave her just a 3.1, while the Soviet judge awarded her a 3.9. Even so, that was good enough to keep her within striking distance.

"I think it's a good position for me," she said. "It's better than last year. I still have to give my best in the short and long programs."

Thomas had to recover from a poor first figure that left her fourth, behind Ivanova, Witt and Kadavy. She wobbled slightly on the first figure and received scores that varied from 3.4 to 4.0. But she claimed marks from 3.8 to 4.2 on the second figure to climb to third, and moved to second place on the third figure. As she finished she shrugged, but her marks were uniformly high, from 3.6 to 4.0. Second place did not bother her at all; she was in first after the 1987 worlds, but went on to lose to Witt.

"This is a long competition," she said. "They {the scores} could have been better, but considering that it's the Olympics and the pressure you go through, it was pretty good."