CALGARY, FEB. 28 -- Katarina Witt of East Germany got tipsy on her first beer and her second Olympic figure skating gold medal, Debi Thomas of the United States discussed the intricacies of failure, and Elizabeth Manley of Canada swore she would never watch "Carmen" again. A wise choice.

The women's figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics was supposed to be a "Dueling Carmens" end piece of sorts to the fortnight. But Witt and Thomas, those bickering rival world champions, committed unseemly mistakes and allowed the unexpected to become the theme of Saturday night.

Witt won the gold, but barely, Manley won the silver, shockingly, and Thomas watched her heart fall to the ice with her errors and settled for the bronze. The two world champions' long-awaited performances to music from the tragic opera were mediocre, while the great skating was left to lesser knowns like Manley and Midori Ito of Japan.

"I've seen enough 'Carmen,'" Manley said. "I'm not going to the opera."

Their performances also rendered the controversies of the last week irrelevant. Those ranged from the personal differences between Witt and Thomas, to arguments over Witt's sexy costumes, to concerns over subjective and nationalistic judging. The East German defending world champion was called the interpretive artiste, while Thomas was called the athletic marvel, and neither seemed to like the other very much for it.

Ultimately, it was probably too much to ask for another event like the men's figure skating, when Brian Boitano of the United States barely defeated Brian Orser of Canada for the gold medal in "The Battle of the Brians." Seldom does this subjective, technical event come down to one skater against another in the climactic four-minute long program, and it is even rarer for these complicated athletes to skate well under extreme pressures.

"For both Katarina and I, it was hard that everyone made it into a competition between just the two of us," Thomas said. "I didn't like it, and I told everyone I didn't like it. I do better without the hype."

Witt was merely relieved after performing an appealing but unsubstantial routine that included just four triple jumps. She was not the transcendent performer she has been in the past, and as she skated off the ice she knew it, to the point that she at first ignored Italian skier and playboy Alberto Tomba, the double gold medalist who had announced he wanted to meet her. Tomba offered a rose from the railing, but Witt skated by.

Later, Witt sat laughing uncontrollably, trying to answer questions at a news conference as the beer hit her, and so did the narrowness of her victory. Witt, who is extremely calculating for all her coyness, was determined to become the only repeat Olympic champion since Norwegian Sonja Henie, who won three titles from 1928-36.

"I thought if Debi did all of her jumps, she would get the first marks," Witt said. "I'm happy it didn't happen, and I win the gold. Oh, this beer. Forget it."

But Witt's scores at first threatened those plans, leaving ample room for upset. Witt, skating early in the final group, received mostly 5.8s and 5.7s out of 6.0. That wasn't nearly good enough with Thomas, who had stripped her of the 1986 world title, still to skate.

When Thomas performed so poorly, Witt was unforgiving. She had been angered earlier in the week to learn that Thomas liked to describe herself as "invincible," and by charges from the Thomas and Manley camps that her costumes were too revealing, her skating too seductive and not athletic. Witt's coach, Jutta Mueller, remarked that Thomas might as well have been skating to "Giselle" as "Carmen" for all the art she displayed.

"I think this shows she is only human and everybody can do mistakes," Witt said. "She is not a miracle."

Witt now goes on to acting lessons, with ambitions of becoming a movie star, and is negotiating with International Broadcasters, which owns the Ice Capades and a film company. The package deal would include an ice show, a movie and a TV special, with the money going to the East German figure skating federation. Witt would be the first East German allowed to do such a thing, but she is also their greatest champion ever.

"It was a three-part competition, and I did everything well, and I think it's fair that I won it," she said. "I wanted my title back. I wanted to show that I'm the best figure skater in the world."

But Manley almost upset those plans. The 22-year-old Canadian once was hospitalized for her nervous problems and had never finished higher than fourth in four world championships. While known to fall frequently in competition, she stood throughout to music from "Irma La Douce" to win the long program, worth 50 percent, outright.

Manley came within a gasp of winning the gold because Witt's scores were good enough to give her only second place in the free skating over Ito of Japan, the superb 18-year-old leaper who was done in by poor compulsories to finish fifth overall and will be seen again in four years. Had Ito been able to take second in the long program and relegate Witt to third, Manley would have won the gold.

"I felt relaxed and happy," Manley said. "And that's unusual in an Olympics, because you're supposed to be nervous. I didn't mind all the attention went to them {Witt and Thomas}. I wasn't chased around a lot."

Skating last after a trying 90-minute wait backstage, Thomas was nervous. That was out of character for the 20-year-old Stanford undergrad, who is usually among the steadiest of skaters. "If they judged the practices, I would have won," she said.

For Thomas to skate well, it is crucial that she hit her first jump, a rare triple-triple combination in the first 15 seconds of her program. She landed that badly, and from then on her "Carmen" unraveled, with a total of three misses on five jumps. They were the first jumps all week Thomas missed.

"After I didn't hit the first jump, it was hard for me to finish," said Thomas, the first black to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. "I didn't even want to be out there. I don't want to analyze it, because there's not too much to analyze. I lost my heart after the first jump."

But there always tends to be one more event in great rivalries. It has long been a point of honor for figure skaters to go to the world championships after the Olympics, before embarking on ice shows. The Brians and the Carmens will all duel one more time in Budapest in March.

"Budapest feels about this big right now," Thomas said, holding two fingers about an inch apart. "I wasn't sure I wanted to go there even if I won the gold medal here. It's hard, but I feel it's something I need to do now for my own peace of mind. And for my coach, to show him I'm not a total louse-up."