TACOMA, Wash. — Debi Thomas and Brian Boitano each won world figure skating championships last year.
In defense of her title, Thomas has changed virtually nothing in her program.
Boitano, however, has changed virtually everything, creating a program that appears to be one of the most demanding ever attempted.
Most other figure skaters would say that Thomas is the smart one. But we already knew that. She's a Stanford premed student.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Boitano is dumb, just daring.
"When I won the worlds last year, I said, 'That's all I can give this year,' " said Boitano, 23, of Sunnyvale, Calif. "But I knew I could give so much more in the future.
"I'd rather lose my title taking risks. If I lose it, I want to go out falling on all the difficult moves instead of being cautious and having someone out-skate me."
Boitano spoke after a practice this week for the U.S. figure skating championships. The two-time national champion has a commanding lead after Thursday's compulsories.
His closest pursuers are Daniel Doran of Chicago and Scott Williams of Redondo Beach. Van Nuys' Christopher Bowman, who finished second to Boitano in the national meet last year, is fifth.
The first three earn berths in the World championships in Cincinnati, March 9-14.
Their competition continues tonight at the Tacoma Dome with the short program. The women's short program will be held today.
The women's long program, which figures to determine the final standings, is scheduled for Saturday afternoon so that it can be televised nationally by ABC.
The men will perform their long programs Saturday night, but they won't be televised until Sunday afternoon.
That's unfortunate for the sport because Boitano's long program could be historical if he becomes the first person ever to cleanly complete a quadruple jump in competition.
Those who follow figure skating say it's as significant to the sport as Roger Bannister's four-minute mile was to track and field.
At least four others, all foreigners, have unsuccessfully attempted the quadruple toe-loop, the Soviet Union's Alexander Fadeev coming the closest at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. But judges ruled his free leg grazed the ice on his one-footed landing.
"I would have given him credit because I know how hard it is," Boitano said.
On the quadruple toe-loop, the skater plants his toe into the ice, leaps and spins four times before touching down again. Boitano has a chance to turn it into the American revolution.
He has been practicing the jump since 1983 but didn't attempt it in competition until last year's Skate America.
"Either you hit it or you land on your butt," he said.
He didn't hit it.
The moment was lost on most of the spectators, including some of the judges, because they didn't recognize it as a quadruple, having never seen one before.
"A lot of people thought it was a triple," Boitano said. "I hated to have them think I fell on a triple."
So that no one will misunderstand Saturday night, his coach, Linda Leaver, joked that she will hold up a sign before Boitano begins the jump.
"Before I came here, I was hitting it 85 to 90% of the time in practice," he said. "Since I've been here, I've landed it about one in every three times. I'm a little nervous here.
"When you do a quadruple, it goes so fast that you know when you take off if you're going to hit it or not. But you can't bail out because you'll have a bigger accident if you do."
Although some of his friends have advised him to wait until he sees how he's progressing before deciding whether to include the quadruple, Boitano is determined.
He said he put the jump near the beginning of the 4 1/2-minute program so that he won't have much time to change his mind.
"I'm going to do it at the worlds," he said. "I can't help but learn something from it here. If I miss it, I'll know what I have to do to hit it in Cincinnati."
The other skaters also will be taking notes.
Williams said Thursday that he's not ready to attempt the quadruple but is eager to see it.
"Brian's a pioneer," Williams said. "He's to be admired by all of us."
Even though he's 5 feet 11 inches, Boitano can dunk a basketball. Considered the sport's premier jumper, he was the first American to perform a triple axel--3 1/2 revolutions--and the first person in the world to combine all six triple jumps in the same program. He has seven triple jumps planned for Saturday night.
Compare that to his predecessor as the U.S. champion, Scott Hamilton, who did two triple jumps in winning the 1984 Olympics.
"When I told Scott my program layout, he swallowed very hard," Boitano said.
"I said, 'Where does it stop, Scott? When do I say this is as much as my body can take?'
"He said, 'I don't understand you. If you did a good, well choreographed program at the World championships and didn't try all this, you'd still win.'
"But that's not my approach to it. We had differences on that. I want to keep making challenges for myself that go beyond winning a world title."
The question went unanswered.