CALGARY -- What had impressed Baryshnikov, what had wowed millions about the world for years was somewhere else last night. Wanting to exit Olympic figure skating with "an amazing impact," Debi Thomas instead left the Saddledome ice after "my nightmare."

The women's final was stunning, though not for who won. Katarina Witt was given a fine chance simply by staying upright. She did just enough more to capture her second straight Olympic gold medal.

Second place was the lady-melts-ice news of the evening, and it allowed these Games to end Sunday with the home folks in a merry and proud mood.

Before Elizabeth Manley -- and her Canadian countrymen -- took flight, few had bothered more than a sideways look at her. She was third going into the long program, but anyone behind Witt and Thomas seemed little more than ornamental.

Manley glided forth immediately after Witt and shortly before Thomas. Her snappy, strutting four minutes had the audience enthralled and was an inspired contrast to the dueling "Carmens."

Technically and artistically, the young woman in hot pink who soon would don a cowboy hat skated the spangles off Witt and Thomas. That was obvious even to those of us who chose the watch the unButtoned version, way up in Section NN.

Midway through Thomas' performance, a skating buff whispered: "Looks like maybe a bronze." He was exactly right, as the brilliant Manley won the entire free-skating phase -- and gave Canadians something to go bonkers over.

The last of the glamor events each of the final two weeks, figure skating emphasized the very best in this Olympics and also some of the worst. The men and women, the two Brians, and Debi vs. Katarina, offered career-peak stylists so appealing in any competition.

Still, figure skating was the only event in which athletes were judged at least partly on whim. No impartial stopwatch decided the winner; no red-light-and-siren signaled superiority.

Everybody knew going in that the performance of a lifetime might be pleasing to millions of sets of eyes, but not to the nine critical ones just off, and slightly above, the ice.

Trouble for Thomas surfaced during final warm-ups, when she fell practicing a complicated turn. She glided to the other end of the arena, then skated back to the scene of the problem and got it corrected.

Temporarily, it developed.

Thomas clearly had the audience on her side. Several American flags draped the balcony; about the Saddledome echoed: "Go, Debi."

This was a crowd ready and willing to duplicate the wild reaction given Manley less than 10 minutes earlier. All Thomas had to do was be her dazzling self.

She wasn't.

Early on, Thomas suffered the first of what would be three hitches in her jumps. Shocked into silence, the polite customers later applauded encouragement during her final minute.

"There was more than enough room for her to win," her coach, Alex McGowan, said. "She knew it. She actually put too much energy in the first triple.

"When she landed, she may have been a little discouraged. A little of the fight might have gone our of her."

Witt and Thomas had chosen "Carmen." Ironically, Witt's died and she won; the happy-Carmen version ended with Thomas slumping off the ice.

"I count on making the first jump," Thomas said, "and it's hard when you don't make the first one. I just wasn't having fun . . . I'm not ashamed. I'm still alive.

"It's been eating on me {the notion of the Olympics being so all-consuming} and I'm glad it's all over, so I can get on with my life. I feel most for my coach. I know he knows I can do it."

"Maybe I psyched her," McGowan said.

In addition to the judges' hearts and minds, Manley also won the War of the Roses. The bunches of flowers fluttering to the ice numbered more than two dozen, many that surely had been reserved for Thomas.

They were tossed at the absolutely right skater, events soon indicated.

There had been several other keenly anticipated matchups close to Witt-Thomas in these Games -- and most of the time the supreme virtuoso coming in prevailed: in the jumps, Matti Nykanen, whose three golds here and one in Sarajevo lifted him among the winter-sport immortals; in the two men's slaloms, Alberto Tomba; in the men's downhill, Pirmin Zurbriggen; in hockey, the supreme Soviets.

Vreni Schneider being the Swiss miss winning two events, the slalom and giant slalom, was a bit of a surprise. So was Austria grabbing as many golds (two) as the Swiss in the women's alpine events.

The Italians symbolized the joy and heartbreak here. Tomba won his second gold medal yesterday, by six one-hundredths of a second; two of his teammates were injured seriously before getting to the start line for their events.

To his fellow Olympians, and himself, the double-gold medalist in men's speed skating, Swede Tomas Gustafson, dedicated a poem he'd recently written:

"They talk about people being crazy/ And some of us they say are also lazy.

"I never knew what they meant completely/ I only knew about the way they treat me.

"Some say we have to sweat/ but, oh, they must forget.

"How nice it is to lay in the sun/ Oh, I want to have some fun."

Gustafson has been in earnest celebration for days. He has been joined, in spirit, by Tomba and Zurbriggen, Bonnie Blair, lots of Soviets and East Germans and, last night, Witt and Manley, the runner-up who did not feel as though she'd lost.