Looking back, Katarina Witt said she thought the reason she won two Olympic gold medals and four world championships was that her figure skating was more than just swirling and sliding to music -- it told stories.

Last night at Capital Centre, Witt and Olympic champion Brian Boitano and 13 other former world and national champions were like a live pop-up storybook, spinning tales about out-of-control motorcycle riders and intoxicating gypsies.

While each of the performers, coming on in turn, skated to a different tune, the thread of diversity, actualized by a single red rose, ran throughout the program.

On darkened, muffled ice, Boitano offered Witt a rose at the opening of the show and another one at the close.

Witt's opening number, skated in an irridescent white knee-length dress with fringed sequins, set the tone. She appeared completely enveloped in her music and in her movements. Each motion flowed flawlessly into the next. Her eyes looked inward. Then she simultaneously startled and awed the 7,214 in attendence, exploding into two consecutive double jumps and a flying camel spin and closing with another double.

For many professionals, life after amateur competition is a long-awaited opportunity to expand their skating beyond Olympic expectations.

"Tonight I had a few chances to improvise . . . a chance to wing it a bit," said Canadian Gary Beacom, the evening's crowd pleaser. He agreed that he pleases the crowds better as a professional than he pleased the judges as an amateur.

"I don't feel obliged to do the same old things. I've done programs with no jumps," he said. "I've broken out as a professional. You have to please the judges as an amateur but as a professional it's more entertainment value, the artistry, the creativity."

Beacom was one of the few allowed to choreograph his own numbers. "No one can choreograph for Gary," said producer Stan Feig. Beacom ran around the rink with Soviet Vladimir Kotin in a mock track race, ran in place, wiggled his feet to propel him across the ice, rode imaginary motorcycles and talked on the phone.

"We tried to break a lot of stereotypes and didn't want them to focus on every jump," said Feig. "But it's a hard habit to break."

But jumps and Olympic-style acrobatics were what the fans were waiting for. And they weren't disappointed.

Boitano and Witt performed a routine from their movie, "Carmen on Ice." Boitano, the soldier called to war, must decide whether to honor his obligation to his country or stay with Carmen. After soul-searching skating around the rink a few revolutions, Boitano does back-to-back triple jumps and, in unison, the two Olympic champions leap into doubles.

For Boitano, the jumps are what keep him in skating. "I evaluate my performance by my jumps. I'm still athletic at heart," he said. He stumbled a few times near the end of the show, after totaling nearly 26 minutes on the ice (as compared with four minutes in an Olympic free-style program). "I have to learn how to pace myself better.

"Technique is the most important part of skating and I still keep up the athletic side. The audience is always waiting for the jumps. And if I don't jump, there's no reason to skate."