If not for the precision acrobatics of pair Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, daring athleticism of Denise Biellmann, grit of Brian Boitano and the innovation of dance legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, last night's NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships at Capital Centre might have been reduced to who could stay on their feet the longest.
Champions had a case of the dropsies. Two fell in the pairs competition and two Olympic medalists fell in the women's contest, with 1988 silver medalist Elizabeth Manley skidding across the ice twice.
Then Swiss skater Biellmann came on. An eerie sitar accompanied her opening and she covered the ice with exotic precision. Her first triple jump was flawless and she closed with a double jump into another double.
In the middle of her routine, she executed a difficult triple Lutz, one of only four women in the world today doing that move. By the time she twirled into her trademark and contortionist Biellmann Spin, the crowd of 15,573 was on its feet. She won with 98.0 points.
"I'm very happy, I'm not sure if maybe it happens again like last year," she said after the judges gave her low scores. "When you do something different, sometimes they don't know how to take it."
The pairs appeared to be the toughest field, with the reigning Olympic and four-time world champions, former Olympic champions and the four-time defending event champions. Soviets Larissa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov set the tone of one-upmanship with daring throws and eggbeater spins, seemingly more at home in the Russian circus they were imitating.
They handily outscored 1988 Olympic and four-time world champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov (48.3-47.9) of the U.S.S.R. in the technical portion. Gordeeva fell twice, slipping on a jump and running into the wall off another throw. Gordeeva was flawless in the artistic portion, pushing the pair over Selezneva and Makarov for second overall with 97.4.
Four-time defending event champions Underhill and Martini, in contrast, hit the ice and their jumps accurately. To Harry Connick Jr.'s rendition of "It Had to Be You," they earned seven 10s and their fifth title with 99.5 points.
In the women's competition, 1988 Olympic bronze medalist and Stanford pre-med student Debi Thomas also fell, slipping out of her first jump in the technical portion of the program.
"I had enough time to train but I knew it was a tough program," she said. "I was a little depressed after falling." She finish third with 96.6 behind Rosalynn Sumners's 97.7. Manley was fourth with 96.
Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic champion, opened the men's competition with a back flip. He got four 10s in the artistic event, totaling 98.4 to pass Brian Orser for second.
Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion, is a product of the renewed daring Cousins brought to men's skating. Returning to the rink after 10 days off because of tendinitis in his hip, Boitano did five triple jumps with ease. He also slid one triple into another and when he readied himself for a jump, fans leaned forward expectantly. When he was done, he got a standing ovation and totalled 99.9 for first place.
"People have started noticing this, it's not an exhibition anymore," said Boitano. "I knew I couldn't walk on if I could only do it half-hearted. I don't want people to see me that way."
Torvill and Dean spoke last week of lifting figure skating out of the cutesy-pie smiles and flashy sequins to new heights of artistic impression. They made good on their challenge, opening their routine to silence. When the music began, they altered expectations about men and women skating together: Torvill flipped Dean and tossed him. To no one's surprise, they won.