Witt shoots arrow from past into field LILLEHAMMER '94

February 24, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- Katarina Witt showed up at the Winter Olympics dressed as a man last night.

Call her Robin Hood.

She shot an imaginary arrow. She marched against her enemies. She turned triple jumps over rivers.

And she turned back the competitive clock, barging her way into sixth place in the women's technical program.

"I'm really proud," she said. "The truth is, I don't care. It's not the medals I came back for."

The strange thing is, she may have put herself back into Olympic medal contention.

While America may have focused on the battle between Nancy Kerrigan, who was first, and Tonya Harding, who was 10th, the rest of the world took a long, hard look at the Europeans, and a 17-year-old from China.

The race for the gold is now a four-woman chase.

Kerrigan, of course, was first after the technical program, but she must remain solid in tomorrow night's free-skate final, worth 66.7 percent of the overall score.

Sitting second was Oksana Baiul, of Ukraine, dressed as a black swan with a crown of silver sequins, bringing a little Bolshoi to the Winter Olympics.

Surya Bonaly, of France, was third, bouncing and flitting across the ice to cheers.

And Chen Lu of China, fourth, wore a lavender outfit that matched her lovely skating lines.

The top skaters all showed they could stand up to pressure.

Baiul, 16, the reigning world champion, had a tiny stumble on her combination jump, a mistake that cost her the lead. But she remains the sport's best skater, a throwback to Sonja Henie. Her spins astonished the crowd, and on her jumps, she didn't leap so much as float in the air, landing gently and quietly on the ice.

For years, Bonaly has been tagged with the derisive phrase of skating gymnast. But last night, with her multi-colored outfit, she played the role of a bird, flying and soaring.

Chen also displayed some toughness to go along with her skating beauty. She landed her combination jump perilously close to the boards, and broadsided a television camera. But she didn't fall. She skated on, completing her program to pull out fourth place.

And as she left the ice, she glared at the camera.

But the star of the night, at least before the Americans and Baiul hit the ice, was Witt.

At 28, she is no longer the flirtatious skating siren who claimed Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988.

She is mature, willing to pull her long brown hair back in a bun, dress up in black tights, a leather tunic and a tan shirt, and play the role of Robin Hood.

"Every competition has its own surrounding," she said. "There is so much attention, you want to be good."

And she was.

She landed a combination jump -- triple toe-double toe loop -- that was two notches lower than her rivals'. But at least she didn't fall, as she did in last month's European Championships.

"I was screaming after that combination jump," she said.

And when she breezed through her double axel, the crowd appeared to heave a collective sigh of relief for the champion who came back from the pros to skate with the kids.

"I screamed again after that axel," Witt said. "I really had a good time."

"My stomach, everything was churning before I skated," she said. "But I came here and I really felt confident. I told myself that I worked all year and now it was time to feel comfortable with the audience. Oh, you can fill the rest in."

But when the marks were posted, it was obvious that modern skating was advancing beyond her.

Witt's technical marks were in the low 5.0 range, and she even received a 4.9 score from American judge Margaret Wier.

"Look," she said when asked about the mark, "I still have the free program ahead of me. OK?"

Definitely.

In tomorrow night's free skating order, the show closes with Witt. The woman who once flirted her way to a gold by skating as Carmen will perform a salute to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, site of her first Olympic gold but now a city under siege.

She will be dressed in a blood red outfit, skating to "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"

All the competitors in front of her, including her German teammate Tanja Szewczenko, who is fifth, would have to fall for Witt to somehow get a gold.

Incredibly, though, a bronze could be within her reach.

Witt, the best closer the sport has ever seen, said she doesn't care about medals, anymore.

"I'm happy," she said. "I'm 10 years older than most of the others. And I'm back."

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